Does anyone know what to do in the case of the more modern Irish/Scottish tunes that may be copyrighted? Can I make recordings and post it on a forum for instance? If no money is involved, is it possible to have "online sessions" with such tunes?

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I suppose all you can do is try to find the writers of the tunes and ask permission.

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And, just to be technical, a performer’s arrangement of a public domain tune is covered by copyright. That is the so-and-so version of such-and-such jig belongs to so-and-so.

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There is a common misconception that if you aren’t charging money you aren’t violating copyright. It’s called "copy"right because it confers certain exclusive rights to make and distribute copies. Sales doesn’t even directly enter into it.

As an entirely intended side effect of this it also thus confers certain exclusive rights to sell those copies, as the rights holder (or his agent) is the only legitmate source of copies.

So even though you are not, yourself, taking money, money is involved. If you distrubute copies for free you innately cause injury to the "property" of the rights holder by devaluing copies.

That be a "Bad Thing" (tm).

When you post them to the web you are not simply violating copyright by making an illegal copy, you are distributing those copies. Everytime someone downloads it you are guilty of another count of copyright violation. When that count reaches a high enough number, or high enough dollar value (based on what the rights holder could sell them for, not on what you’re charging for them), the violation may well become a criminal offense and you could, conceivably, go to jail for it. Each count also confers on you a legal obligation to pay a license fee, and may also incur a penalty (in Yankland that would be $250 per violation. That adds up in a hurry when people start downloading.)

You need explicit permission. Such permission is as good as the paper it is written on.

The issue of arrangments of public domain works is more complicated. They might, or might not, be covered by copyright, depending on a number of factors, which can only be determined by an actual court ruling.

That means you have to get sued to find out if you didn’t do anything wrong. That’s another "Bad Thing" (tm).

Are we having fun yet?

Well, if so you can think about this then; simply playing a work protected by copyright is often a violation, since a performance of a work is a copy of it. You gotta pay to play. You, as a performer, may not be aware of this because the rights Nazis go after the venues for that money.

The pub you’re playing in owes a license fee because you’re playing there.

Next time you’re out and about start looking at the doors of pubs and such. You may notice that some of them have a little decal on them from some music industry entity (in Yankland that would be ASCAP). That decal is the smear of sheep’s blood indicating that they’ve already paid their protection mon… er, license fee, and the plague can pass them over.

Until the license runs out. Copyright plagues are recuring affairs.


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So, where do the tunes posted here @ "" fit into this scenario? Are they screened for copyright ownership? If not, is it therefore illegal to either post or download tunes here? How does one know which tunes are public domain, and which are copyrighted? Many tunes list discography, does that imply that they are copyrighted? How can a group or individual take a tune that is hundreds of years old and "copyright" it? Recent headlines have spoken of websites and users of websites sued for copyright infringement for "file-sharing" - downloading tunes. Are users of this website at risk for posting tunes or for downloading posted tunes? A pandora’s box I have wondered about……

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Oh for the good old days of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi et al, when if a coposer wanted a tune in a hurry he’d just "borrow" it from the nearest source. Composers of the time were never above nicking tunes from each other. Copyright (in music at any rate) just wasn’t around.

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Darned good question, Cecil. Since we’re using the ABC format and turning ABC into jpegs of sheet music, who the heck knows? The filesharing ruckus is over sharing specific recordings of songs, which is a much more clear-cut issue.
The saddest thing about all of this is that copyright started out as a way of protecting authors’ rights (do any of the other American members recall the old Ballantine paperback copies of the Lord of the Rings, with the curmudgeonly note on the back from JRR himself about the only authorized edition and respect to living authors and so forth?) —- but now it almost entirely protects the large corporations that buy out the authors’ rights for a pittance. Actually, in music, copyright has almost always protected the corporations rather than the composers. Look what they’ve done to my song, Ma.
Having myself had short pieces (articles, not tunes) horribly mangled by a deranged editor who deleted factual material, inserted his own inaccurate droolings, and left my name on the unrecognizable results, I have appreciation for the spirit of copyright law; but I have darned little for its current letter. :pæ

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File sharing is not illegal in Canada as far as our courts are concerned.

I found this at

A copy of the text from the site follows,…hope I’m not violating copyright law LOL.

Lawdit has been keeping a close eye on the legal position to music downloads and believes that this decision rests on a pair of earlier Canadian decisions. The first case ruled that downloading for personal use was not illegal as Canadians nationals compensate artists by paying tax on recording media such as CDs, cassettes and computer mediums. However it also made clear in its ruling that uploading music for others to use was still illegal and a breach of copyright. The second case was decided in Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that photocopying that merely providing the ability to copy material and did not in itself amount to copyright infringement.


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So I’ve got this new fiddle and I’m wondering what to do with it. I’m already a musician. I read. Dotted notes don’t scare me. I don’t want to spend a lot of time sawing away at Go Tell Aunt Rhody and working my way through a primer that’s really designed for kids new to music.

So, I find reference on how to tune the bugger, and that tells me where all the other notes are, at least approximately. Now it’s just a matter of sliding my fingers around a bit until I find out where they are exactly and teaching my fingers to find that place again.

So I compose a tune. Nice bouncy little number, a real performable piece that can remain in the repetoire, that I don’t mind playing over and over again while getting my fingers and bowing arm trained to produce something vaguely akin to music. By the time I get to the B part it’s acquiring lyrics (there’s this woman you see, and, well… .nevermind) and turning into a song. When I start singing it the tune morphs a bit.

Anyway, after I’ve been playing it a while I suddenly realize that the B part is a swung variant of Loch Lomond. Go figure. Well, it’s about a woman, and a lake. I guess it was bound to happen. So now I’ve become the proud "composer" of a "Scottish" fiddle tune I call "The Queen of … Oswego." I’m Russian. She’s Dutch. Oswego is a Mohawk word. The fiddle, of course, is a baroque Italian instrument.

Is this a crazy, mixed up world, or what?

I assume the A part is "ripped off" from something too, although I haven’t figure out what yet. There’s only 12 notes, which we don’t even use all at once, and thousands of fiddle tunes. They’re all, in some respect or another, variants of some other tune.

Poor George Harrison got nailed for "ripping off" three notes. He had composer’s block for ten years after that experience.

I’m safe. Loch Lomond goes back to the mid 1700s. It’s been unquestionably in the public domain for over 100 years. Most of the fiddle tunes you’ll find here have a provenence that likewise puts them clearly in the public domain. When we’re dealing with the discographys you have to understand that the copyright on the tune is a seperate issue from the copyright on the recording of the tune. You can’t post Chieftains recordings to the web. They own those. But not the tunes.

In any case you’ll find that only people who "post" recordings are being sued. Downloading isn’t a big legal issue. Uploading is, because that’s distribution. Don’t share, leech.

Copyright is older than most people think as well. By the time Bach was born the British copyright office had already been in operation for 50 years. Before that copyrights were granted by royal decree.

What they didn’t have back then was a recording industry and the swarms of lobbiests and lawyers that buzz around it. If you "ripped off" somebody’s material the most likely outcome was that they’d never even know about it, or be in no position to complain because they’d been ripping off you.

As always, blame the lawyers.


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I would think that the only way that an ABC of a traditional tune posted here would be a copyright problem is if it was an exact rendition of some particular copyrighted arrangement. As everyone has probably observed, this is rarely the case. An ABC that came from a recording is someone else’s transcription of the way the the person on the album played the tune, and is hardly ever identical to the recording.

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Some members might be guilty of transcribing their ABCs directly from a written copy but mine are as I play them. Of course, I may well have learned some from a book or from someone else who has.
There are a couple of tunes(fairly new) which I learned of recordings that haven’t been published yet. They will be eventually available in print, no doubt, but I’ve already posted them. So, how do I stand here? I’m sure many other members here must have done something similar.

Anyway, I think that our kind of music has a life of its own and is very difficult control by copyright. We can’t be expected to purchase a written version before we play a tune. Because most of us play by ear, we’ve already learned the tune before get around to seeing any written music. Sorry. :-)

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The copyright discussion again? Ok, once again i say: hands on your own tunes! And once again time to throw in my public domain tune pool (pdtp) idea (which still is in a status of a faint dawning of an idea) – read more here:

And another quote that hopefully gives better understanding to my personal understanding of copyright….

"Re: WHEN is a tune traditional?
our modern western world copyright understanding and the special culture of a "traditional" culture (in this case ITM) is colliding sometimes and leads to several misunderstandings.

Our understanding of copyright is based on the strong belief that if there is a piece of work (and worth), there must be a certain creator. But we all know more or less, that the roots of ITM (as well as other ethnic, local or "older" cultures) base on some kind of public domain understanding. The composers of the most tunes are not unknown because they have been forgotten, but because to nobody, not even to themselves it was that important to be "known" as the composer of this tune ……

But the ruling understanding of standard copyright is ruling strong, not to say as a dictator

The basic ITM material is public domain material (and we all use it that way - TheSession is based on that idea, for example, but has to manage not to collide with the ruling copyright understanding of our days) … you can see that conflict as well in the software industry, where the standard copyright idea made Bill Gates a rich man while the Open Source movement tries to find ways to brake monopols and open ways to create better and cheaper software by collaboration…

But as in the 19th century the idea came up that there is a certain inventor, creator who "owns" the right of the first idea, all systems of paying artists, inventors and all creators of ideas and other not materialised basics of products and paying them by a license percentage per sold unit - the composers and arranging/recording artists of ITM who try to make a living as musicians had as well as others too to name themselves as copyright-"owners"

In Germany we have the powerful GEMA (like ASCAP in the States). Even a small public session has to pay about 20 Euros to the GEMA per Event. For a public gig with admission the GEMA takes a lot more (it starts at about 60 Euros for a small event with about 50 to 100 people in the audience). The money goes to musicians, composers, producers who have registered copyrights at the GEMA (so you can imagine, there goes no money to a "ITM public domain trust" ….you have to pay less for using "traditional" material, but this less goes as well to the established copyright owners). No wonder even unknown amateur bands name in their playlists a couple of self-composed and a lot more of "self-arranged" tunes and songs within the majority of "traditionals" on the list, because this makes GEMA fees a bit cheaper…..while our not always good payed ITM "stars" take advantage to create copyright entries to get money from the well ….

…. there was mentioned tradition comes from the latin tradere…. the english word "trading" has the same root. and trading means to change goods which is different from selling and buying them. the ruling copyright understanding to my opinion is perverting and destroying "traditional" systems. but the wheel can´t be turned back, so let´s take advantage.

I don´t take that much care for a single copyright owner in ITM - I try to pay my respect to ITM as a whole.

BTW all this happens within a big struggle of the two concepts - or what do you think is going on, when Sonymusic and Co. is fighting against Napster&Co, while the copyright ignoring cd burning grows faster and the cd selling decreases….. I´m no friend of a Pirate or thievery concept, but our ruling copyright system&understanding ignores half of what is really happening."

Quote taken from:

btw: searching for "copyright" in the TheSession Database brings up over 250 entries…

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As I understand caselaw with regard to copyright, website owners are probably well within copyright law if they promptly remove any offending material upon reciept of a complaint.

So if the composer of a tune posted here notifies the webmaster that such-and-such a tune is under his copyright, the webmaster should promptly pull it from the site. Doing this should make it unlikely that any damages could be sought.

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Copyright is one of the ‘modern’ sicknesses that is and will continue to plague Western Society. As has been noted, whilst the concept is simple ..’to protect the intellectual property rights’ of the lonely composer up in his/ her attic - in practice, its all about protecting the profits of business.

One of the attractions of ITM is the fact that it is the music of the people - public music and free from from the crap that the rest of the music business forces on the consumer. Sorry if I used a rude word! .. hope I’m not banned :-)

All right thinking ordinary decent common citizens should stoutly resist the concept of copyright - have nothing to do with it - we should be willing to share our music and ideas for the better furtherance of society and life on the planet. Ignore it in large numbers!!

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"Power to the people" is now a trademarked tagline for etrade. Yow! Hope I don’t get in trouble for shouting it from the barricades. I think severe irony poisoning is treated with deferoxamine.

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There are probably as many legal opinions as their are deep pockets to pay for them, and the deepest pockets usually win. Meanwhile, we are sitting ducks for those deep pockets almost by picking up an instrument to play it. e.g. the George Harrison example. With millions of copyrighted melodies, the odds of playing any given tune without hitting upon 3 notes that haven’t been copyrighted before is pretty small. And recently, I have read of attempts to coin and copyright words, which then cannot even be spoken without paying a royalty. Sound bizarre? Well, I have also read of a famous group that copyrighted a 2 chord ascending major chord chromatic progression and then sued others who composed using those same 2 chords - AND WON!

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If the democrats had their way, the government would own even the air and we would all be paying to breathe it, since breathing changes the composition of the atmosphere (an extension of limiting property rights by wetlands, endangered species etc.)

If the republicans had their way, all air would be privately owned and we would pay for every breath.

Kind of extreme - uh, lets laugh about it instead of cry about it.

After all, the alternatives to legal resolution of problems are: atom bombs, terrorism, violence etc….

I plan to keep playing music in spite of the lawyers and their deep-pocket masters.

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I think that one should worry about copyright violations only when real money is involved. There is no way that BMI/ASCAP/etc. is going to send their goons around to every session or pub or restaurant or dance hall on several continents, much less the swapping of thousands of ABC files by thousands of ITM enthusiasts, few of who make any real money playing this stuff. There may come a day when publicans are forced to pay a fee to BMI/ASCAP to cover sessions and the odd St. Patrick’s Day performance, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. I also wouldn’t worry too much about violating copyrights for ITM or its variants, unless you’re the Chieftans.

The copyrighting of intellectual and other "property" is a fascinating aside, but I’m with Cecilguitar on this one.

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They don’t have to send goons to every session or pub or restaurant. Usually just a letter from an ASCAP lawyer is enough to get the places to cough up some money. Most of the businesss they shake down can’t afford to go to court over it and just pay them whatever amount of money they can afford to.

An art gallery that hosts a bluegrass jam I play at from time to time got hit up by ASCAP for some money a few months back after a neighboring bar owner apparently reported them for playing compyrighted music. We al wondered if any old bluegrass artists were going to start getting bigger royalty checks since we were playing their songs.

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I have known of several establishments that either stopped having live music or would not start having live music because they didn’t want to pay the protection money, er, licensing fee.