Ethical dilemas

Ethical dilemas

It’s apparent that many of the tunes that are said to be traditional are in fact composed and that many of the composers are still alive. How do people address the issue of recording these tunes on commercial ventures ? I mean it would be possible to record a cd where nearly every tune has a still living composer making it an expensive proposition if the proper ethical channels are followed. It’s also a pet peeve to see musicians who credit tunes as "traditional" when the composers are widely known. Any thoughts ?

Re: Ethical dilemas

Try - http://www.lizcarroll.com

Liz Carroll is a prolific composer of traditional sound music and an excellent, award winning fiddle player. You could try her web site.

Best Wishes 😉

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"…making it an expensive proposition if the proper ethical channels are followed."

Actually, it isn’t. In most countries and all Berne Convention countries (and even China has signed on to that) the recording of musical works is covered by what is called a "mechanical" royalty. It is called "mechanical" because it is not negotiated with the artist. The license is compulsory and the rate of royalties set by law and simply applied "mechanically."

The rate varies by country, so you have to refer to your local laws to discover what it is, but is never more than pennies a tune and is paid per copy distributed, like sales taxes are collected and paid monthly/quarterly after sale. The primary difference being that for music the royalty isn’t based on sales price, but copies distributed, so you owe the royalty even for copies you give away, but if you are selling your CD you already have the money in your pocket to cover it as it comes due. On a CD loaded with modern compositions you’ll end up owing out a dollar/euro/whatever or two.

There’s really no reason not to play the game by the book, although the bookkeeping can get wearisome.

KFG

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very good point,Pat,but this has been a problem since recording of trad music began,not only with newly composed tunes but with musicians original arrangements of tunes which they have,say,taken out of O`Neills book ,or collected orally,and totally transformed.You don`t get away with plagiarism in the popular or classical music spheres,but basically you can do what you like with trad tunes new or old as royalties are not paid to anyone excepting songwriters and people like Bill Whelan who are members of performing rights societies who chase these things up for them.Can you imagine what people like Michael Coleman,Ed Reavy,Matt Molloy,Sean McGuire, Or Leo Rowsome etc are owed for the thieving done of their settings from albums by generations of players who then happily record them ,note for note ,often changing the names of the tunes,and not citing their real sources.It would be impossible to unravel this mess.CLOSE UP YOUR CAN OF WORMS AGAIN…

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"It would be impossible to unravel this mess."

Hey, don’t sweat it. That’s what the civil courts are for. All we need is for everyone to sue/countersue everyone else and let them deal with it. I’m sure the lawyers will appreciate the wealth of the entire known universe transfered directly into their pockets as well.

You might gather I’m not the biggest fan of the Berne Convention.

KFG

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"It’s also a pet peeve to see musicians who credit tunes as "traditional" when the composers are widely known. Any thoughts?"

So let me see if I understand this; you can’t compose traditional tunes if you’re widley known. Does this mean that since no one knows me — I can write traditional tunes? Or do I have to be dead to do that? I’m still confused.

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I think you might have misunderstood Patkiwi there Jack. The point being made was about not giving credit where credit’s due. By simply calling a tune "Traditional", there’s no need to worry about copyright. At least that’s how I understood it.

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No, I believe what he is saying is that in the *legal* sense you cannot compose a traditional tune at all and if someone claims one of your tunes as traditional your legal rights may well be violated, and the better known the author/authorship the more aggregious is the claim.

Steve Gillette’s song "Darcy Farrow" is routinely recorded and cited as "traditional." Steve is moderately well known, but not "famous," so in most instances this done out of ignorance, assumptions and a failure of due diligence (it only takes a matter of seconds on Google to determine that the song is modern and someone’s intellectual property).

Recording and citing "Blowin’ in the Wind" as traditional is in another class, because it is *very* well known that little Bobby Zimmerman is the author and a plea of ignorance is not likely to be believed by many.

KFG

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Actually, re-reading the original post, I’m not so sure myself now. What did you mean Patkiwi?

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What’s the dilema? - in the UK, get the MCPS to clear it, pay for the certificate and give that to the pressing company.

I hope you are not suggesting ripping people off! A reputable prsssing company shouldn’t press without a certificate.

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Hi Allan - small virtual world etc…

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As far as copyrights, royalties and other litigious prattle goes; it’s out of context with ITM. There are very few artists recording today who’s CD sales would add up to anything worth hiring a solicitor over. Most composers are only interested in the acknowledgement of having written the tune. But even if that were to be overlooked in the liner-notes – no one is going to get their knickers in a twist over it.

In my own experience I have found tune composers indifferent to any un-intentional errors in liner-notes, and as well they seem un-interested in the paltry financial prospects from collecting royalties. But they are always delighted with any recognition – even if it’s on slipshod CDs like the ones I’ve done.

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Just checked the Tipsy House site Jack. If that’s slipshod then I’m throwin in the towel. Great mp3s, lovely stuff!

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What I meant was that artists commonly misappropriate tunes on albums crediting them as traditional rather than composed by "x". It takes just a few minutes research on the web to find out who composed what. I know that it’s impossible to get everything %100 correct all the time but I think a bit of effort should go into making sure that tunes are correctly credited. There are, of course, people who claim to have composed a tune that they may never have and people who compose tunes that sound way too similar to existing melodies to be creditable.
Another point is that whatever it costs to buy the rights to record a particular tune, preset by the domestic watchdog, it’s a safe bet that none of the money is going to end up in the hands of the composer, or at least it’s extremely unlikely. But it’s not uncommon for tunes to end up as melodies for songs that are on big, big selling cd’s. Mike Scott’s appropriation of "Roche’s" for the song "Farther Out, Farther In" is a classic case, or movie soundtracks for that matter. It’s a safe bet that some recently composed tunes have made it onto big selling cd’s in the mistaken belief that they were traditional (some people equate that with "no known composer").

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Anyone can compose music, it takes a great tune to be accepted into "the tradition" though. When I said that the composer was widely known I meant within the context of the group of people who follow this music. Personally I think Vincent Broderick is one of Ireland’s greatest living composers but I don’t expect my neighbour to have heard of him.

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I said this in the tune section a while ago, but it might be appropriate here too.

When I met Charlie Lennon, I asked him how he felt about his tune, "Road to Cashel" being recorded slightly different on the Daly/Burke LP than his original version, and then being learned that way by the multitudes who buy the recording. He said he didn’t mind, but that he was glad they credited him as the composer. He said he was more upset that they gave it the wrong title (Cabin Hunter). Charlie said that once you release a tune into the ITM universe, it becomes part of that tradition and is no longer just yours — it belongs to the music. He added that it was the reason he was compelled to publish his book of tunes — he wanted to put his original settings out for anyone that might be interested… and I’m sure he hoped it would help anyone get the titles right too.

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"Another point is that whatever it costs to buy the rights to record a particular tune, preset by the domestic watchdog, it’s a safe bet that none of the money is going to end up in the hands of the composer, or at least it’s extremely unlikely. "

Not true. I don’t know how it works in the ITM world, but in the songwriter world, the person who records the song (or whoever handles their money) pays the person who wrote the song (or whoever they sold their rights to). Many composers register their songs with an agency (eg Harry Fox) that helps people who record them figure out how to get the money to the composer, and there’s presumably a small fee involved, but the royalty checks don’t pass through that agency.

Where payment is unlikely is for live performance royalties. That’s where when someone sings your song or plays your tune (that you composed) in public, the venue is supposed to pay some money to a performing rights organization (PRO, like ASCAP, BMI, SOCAN, MCPS, etc), which is then supposed to distribute the money to its composer clients according to some formula that estimates how likely it was that it was YOUR song that got played. In the US, the PROs base the payments on samples of radio airplay, which heavily favors composers of songs in the mainstream and often misses the others entirely.

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After reading what I wrote, I wonder how many copies of "Eavesdropper" were sold? I wonder if the royalties for Charlie’s tune would actually amount to much or not. Anyone know?

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Bob Dylan used the melody of an old song,"No More Auction Block" for the song "Blowing In The Wind".

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Woody taught Bob to always steal the best. I love his revision of The Leaving of Liverpool.

Several of Woody’s songs, including Roll on Columbia, use the melody of Goodnight Irene without overtly crediting Huddie.

It’s "folk" music. That’s what we do. Build on each other to grow and evolve the music because the music is what’s important. A number of entire genres, such as the blues, wouldn’t even be able to exist if we didn’t do this.

KFG

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The statutory rate in the U.S. is currently somewhere around 8 cents per song (more for particularly long songs, I don’t know about particularly short ones).

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Actually, SOCAN was hassling me for a while to register a particular song with them so they could send me my "royalties". I put it on the bottom of my list of things to do, thinking they were going to send me a check that would be worth less than the transaction fee I’d have to pay to deposit it. But still, they tried, and the only reason I didn’t collect my royalies was my own laziness. I’m convinced the system works, though.

Where do you draw the line between traditional and composer credited tunes? They were all composed. Using the word "traditional" where the composer credit should be indicates to me that the artists were unable to discover the identity of the composer. So be it. If the composers or their descendants care enough and catch wind of the recording, they will come to you requesting their due.

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And I’ll gladly give them the $80 I owe (calculated according to Gary’s figures and assuming we sell all the CDs). Not that I don’t think it’s worth more, but that’s all it would amount to. Liz Carroll told me she wasn’t interested in collecting any fees, she was happy enough, she said, that we liked her tune enough to include it. I think she was actually taking pity on us knowing we would hardly make any money on the project ourselves let alone worrying about royalties and such. Then again, it might be that she’s avoiding any conflict of interest if she decides to retain a lawyer and sue us for murdering her tune.

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Can we invoke copyright restrictions to say that we’re not allowed to sing Fields of Athenry and Green Fields of France, because the tunes were wriitten less than 50 years ago? 🙂

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Determining whether or not a tune is copyrighted is NOT always easy. Many tunes carry the same title, some of which may be traditional, and some of which may be quite recent. And some tunes that are recent can still be hard to find. (To find the author / owner ). Just try using either Google or the web sites of some of the agencies and you will find both cases to be true.

In a world where a famous group sues an average person and wins for copyright infringement for playing 2 chords a half step apart, ( a common musical device for centuries), it doesn’t matter, coz the bottom line is that anybody can sue anyone at anytime for anything, as long as they can afford legal representation.

And what of the tunes posted here at the session? The home page specifies that this site is for the sharing of traditional tunes, yet many tunes transcribed list album after album on which they appear. Are royalties being paid? Who is responsible or liable? The person submitting the tune? Jeremy? Each individual who downloads a tune? When we download tunes, how are we to know which tunes violate copyright law, if any? What is the difference between sharing tunes this way (transcribing @ thesession.org) and the file-sharing web sites that I keep reading of in the paper where 5000 people at a time are being indicted?

And its only Monday……………?-)

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We’re not swapping the recorded music (well, except maybe in private, member to member), we’re swapping sheet music. Besides which, most of those albums on that long list credit the tune as "traditional", therefore are not entitled to royalties when we learn it, swap it, and record it ourselves, unless we use EXACTLY the same arrangement.

So it’s very different.

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Just buy and drink Fair Trade coffee, and you can sleep with a clear conscience.$

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The challenge, and the adventure, is finding who wrote the tune, contacting them, and getting permission. While you can pay the statutory fee, there is some pleasure in making sure the money goes into the right pockets. From my experience, and that of friends, sometimes the permission comes free. And making a connection with the author can be well worth the trouble. I recently tracked down Thomas Walsh to secure rights to "Inisheer" for a CD. The cost that I forwarded to his publisher was a pittance, and what a lovely man he was to talk to. But when the person whose name is associated with the tune cannot be tracked down, and it is not clear if that person wrote it, or simply passed it on, the use of the "traditional" label seems appropriate.

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I find it interesting how many people believe that a web search will quickly yield the real composer of a tune. I think we’re starting to put a bit too much faith in ‘the web’ as a source point, which can lead to very sloppy research.

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I have a 3" thick binder full of permissions documents, letters, research, copies of pages from books with the composer on them, etc., that I’ve built up in the process of making a CD over the past year. I’ve spent many, many, many hours looking up tunes, contacting composers (email, postal mail, in person - sometimes numerous times), and indeed shelling out money for royalties. For some tunes I used Harry Fox (www.songfile.com), which charges a $10 US fee, and then $42.50 (presumably all of that part of the $52.50 paid per tune for 500 CDs) goes to the composer…..and others were more difficult, and included calling, writing and emailing different addresses, etc.

But I feel it’s well worth it and an important thing to do. It seems only simple fairness to give a composer credit and offer money (or negotiate sometimes - depending on if you’re working through a publishing company or corresponding directly with the composer).

As people have noted a couple of times, it does take time indeed, and it’s important to do proper research and get things right. Yes, you won’t always be tracked down, sued, or anything like that, but if you don’t credit the composer and receive their permission, you’ll propegate this inaccuracy as well as being dishonest. (I certainly want to know when tunes I’ve written are being recorded and receive due credit in the liner notes, even if I don’t receive money for it….)

My CD, "Grand Tour: Traditional Music on Piano" is mostly me on piano, with fiddlers as guests and also saxaphone on one track. It’s 72 minutes, and was recorded in a studio, mastered, etc. You can purchase it from me for $15 US (includes shipping) at:
E. Eid-Reiner
c/o C. Eid
P.O. Box 750007
Arlington Heights, MA 02475
USA