Celtic tunes and public domain

Celtic tunes and public domain

Hi—I’m new here and have a question.

I’m working on a piece for string orchestra that makes use of a couple of standard Celtic tunes (specifically Swallowtail Jig and Lilting Banshee) that I would like to publish in the near future.

Is it safe to assume that any of the arrangements/variations that show up in the sheet music graphics can be treated as 100% public domain? Or, should I use only old sources (O’Neill’s, etc.)?

Thanks in advance.

Gary Daum

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Welcome to thesession.org Gary. To be absolutely safe I would stick to O’Neill’s and other old sources. You’re probably ok with most variations you might find online for these standards, but you never know.

Also, just a friendly head’s up that there was a recent thread on this board discussing the appropriateness of the word "celtic" to describe Irish music, so if you get some odd comments about that, that’s where it’s coming from. Nothing against you personally. We know what you mean 🙂

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

To the best of my knowledge, one cannot copyright an arrangement. If you sing or record someone’s version of a pop tune, I don’t believe anyone other than the original composer gets a royalty. Most trad tunes are public domain - certainly if there is no known composer. I wouldn’t worry.

Welcome to the site, and as Joe said, if anyone gives you static about using Celtic as a term of art, don’t worry about that, either. Send them to me and Joe and I will have a word.

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Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

> one cannot copyright an arrangement

The test is the level of originality in context. "Normal" variations in playing Irish tunes would not count as a separate arrangement (one of the judgements resolving this talks about "variations that could be improvised by any competent cocktail pianist" or something like that.

Writing an entire orchestral work around a single piece, now that would presumably pass the originality test.

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Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

That never seems to have stopped the Kingston Trio. Find an old song, change it up a tad in the arrangement and then copyright it.

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Hi Gary,

That’s interesting. What’s the lineup of the string orchestra?

Don’t worry about the ‘Celtic’ thing. Nobody here actually knows what it really means anyway 🙂

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

The arranger can get royalties as well as the composer - I certainly do from PRS.

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"Most trad tunes are public domain - certainly if there is no known composer." Hmm? Certainly you’re safe if you stick to stuff from O’Neill’s, all of it should be public domain.

But there are loads of common tunes written by known composers in the last 70 years which are not public domain. "The Banshee", "Father Kelly’s", "Calliope House", "Brendan Tonra’s", all the "Martin Wynne’s", Ed Reavy’s tunes, "Paddy Fahey’s", etc.

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Isn’t that what I said? You named a handful of tunes and there are many more, but O’Neill’s has 1,800. I rest my case.

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Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Definition of Celtic according to Oxford English Dictionary:
Celtic: A noun used to invoke emotion on TheSession and cause otherwise sensible people to throw the bear out of the cot. Commonly used to incite a 100 comment forum post which never answers the OP’s question. Can be used for ‘research’, i.e., if one is seeking to uncover a map of old European boundaries written on parchment in 652AD by a Roman scribe with a pointy nose.
:0)

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Adjective.

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

"I’m working on a piece for string orchestra that makes use of a couple of standard Celtic tunes"

I wouldn’t disagree - this sounds like a good description of what’s often referred to as ‘Celtic’ musak.

Posted .

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

I don’t think you can have an arrangement of an arrangement. Even if someone has copyright on an arrangement of a trad tune, if you make your own arrangement you are re-arranging the original tune, not their arrangement, so you owe them nothing.

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

I remember a discussion on a Swedish forum many years ago - one question was what an "arrangement" is. (if Henrik Norbeck reads this - wasn’t it on RFoD?)

Taking a single-line melody and adding chords? (Probably not)
Writing lines for a symphony orchestra? (Most likely yes)
Making it part of a "set" with another traditional tune? (Probably not, but there are numerous examples of "Trad. arr" on ITM recordings)
Making it part of a "set" with a modern tune? (Perhaps yes)

What are the (default?) percentages for the composer vs arranger in the case of one tune in the public domain, and one modern (assuming the composer says it’s OK…)?

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Ailin, I apologize — I misread your statement, which on further examination is certainly literally true.

However, I still think the implications of what you are saying are not doing a good job of answering the original question. I "named" 200+ tunes (in the sense you "named" 1850 by mentioning O’Neill’s) and that 10% ratio is probably a good first guess for how common tunes with known composers are. I think it’s probably closer to 20% of the tunes played at our local session.

Fred Finn and Peter Horan’s "Music of Sligo", an older, very traditional album (that I know well), has 30 tunes, of which "Maid of Mt. Cisco", "Dash to Portobello", "Martin Wynne’s #s 1&2", and "Twilight in Portroe", are all post-1920 compositions, possibly "The Providence" too. So about 16%-20% of its tunes have known composers.

As you say, "most" tunes are public domain — but composed tunes are still quite common, and it is not at all safe to pick a handful of tunes without further info and assume they are all public domain.

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Here in the USA it’s simple.

"In the U.S., any work published before January 1, 1923 anywhere in the world is in the public domain."

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Sol - No argument from me. What I was trying to say, though, is if a tune is "traditional," by definition, it is in the public domain. If the tune is written in the traditional style, it may still enjoy the protection of copyright. I wasn’t suggesting that the OP not makes sure, but I would venture to guess that unless a tune were to become a Top 10 hit or be used in a major motion picture, no one would grouse about having their tune recorded or arranged for non-trad ensembles. I wonder how many modern "trad" tunes have even been copyrighted at all. My book of Vincent Broderick tunes states that the written version is copyrighted against reproduction of the transcriptions, but it says nothing about public performance or aural recording of same.

Richard has possibly made an interesting point he probably did not intend. His quote refers to "published" tunes. What if the tune was never published by the composer or at least with the composer’s participation?

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I think the copyright situation is slightly different between UK and US. In the UK the creator holds copyright regardless of whether he has registered the tune or not, the rights organizations are just a convenient way of collecting the royalties. But as I understand it, in the US work is only considered copyright if it has been registered.

If a tune was never published, then no one would know it and it wouldn’t get copied. If someone else happened to compose the same tune you couldn’t claim infringement, because if no one has hear or seen your tune then they can’t be copying. One of the criteria for bringing an infringement case is that the defendant must have had access to the original work.

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

"What I was trying to say, though, is if a tune is "traditional," by definition, it is in the public domain."
That’s just not true.

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Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Why not?

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

> there are numerous examples of "Trad. arr" on ITM recordings

Indeed. This is something of a convenient fiction in order to make royalties payable.

> I wonder how many modern "trad" tunes have even been copyrighted at all.

All of them.

There is a lot of bad law in this thread.

Also, my unevidenced suspicion would be that named authors could be found for many more tunes than we tend to realise.

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Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

-In the US, material published older than 75 years is public domain, 75 years or less is considered copyrighted.
-An on-line search on the song/tune name (such as Google) is advised to determine public domain. If you can’t find proof of public domain assume it is copyrighted.
-When I compose new material, it is copyrighted when published. Registering is not neccessary, however as mentioned above without publishing it can be difficult to prove ownership. If I compose a new tune and upload it to the Tunes section of theSession.org, it is published and I own the copyright. I can, however, give anyone written permission to play/record or publicly acknowledge my tune as public domain if I am not interested in collecting royalties.
-A folk tune that is in public domain can have lyrics composed that are copyrighted. A good example is the famous Ukranian Carol. You can perform and record the folk tune all you want, just don’t call it "Carol Of The Bells" or sing the lyrics without paying royalties.
-If you have any doubt, hire a copyright lawyer.

David E.

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Ebor_fiddler:

Many, many tunes are traditional (ie accepted into the tradition), but are still under copyright. The definition of traditional is emphatically not synonymous with the definition of public domain. Age is not a requirement of the definition of traditional.

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Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

" I wonder how many modern "trad" tunes have even been copyrighted at all."

In this context "modern trad" is an oxymoron - when it comes to tune credits ‘trad’ doesn’t mean ‘traditional style’ (as it does when talking about modern compositions) a ‘trad’ credit means ‘anonymous’. Modern tunes all have a known composer, so they are never ‘trad’.

I agree with Calum that a lot of tunes get erroneously credited as ‘trad’, thoug I think it probably isn’t usually deliberate. Because this is a largely aural tradition, tunes often get separated from their names, and if you learn a tune without its original name, or under a different name, then it becomes impossible to trace the composer/rights holder.

Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

> a lot of tunes get erroneously credited as ‘trad’, thoug I think it probably isn’t usually deliberate.

Oh, no, and I wouldn’t think for a moment it was. I think there’s very, very few professional musicians would be anything other than mortified to discover they’d recorded a tune without acknowledging the composer. And by and large, most composers take the view that such an event is a compliment, in that the tune was felt good enough to have been transmitted on its own merits.

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Re: Celtic tunes and public domain

Two things of note: There is at least one publishing company that claims to have copyrights on an enormous number of Irish tunes. They are simply looking to collect royalties. Many of the tunes, if not all, are public domain.

If you want to get a clear picture of copyright & the law, contact Paddy Noonan. He was sued by the Fox group for an incredible amount of money for so-called infringements.