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Copyright: Giving members more music and more options

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In reply to an earlier post on this blog, Tom Goldie shared some interesting suggestions regarding copyright laws and how the Society had get music into members’ hands more easily. With his permission, quoted below are Tom’s ideas (in quotes) and responses from Julie Grower, who manages the Music Library and Licensing for the Society.

Tom brings up some interesting possibilities. What do you think?

Julie begins:


Thank you so much for taking up an issue which I know many barbershoppers feel strongly about. Your ideas are very positive and forward-looking. We always appreciate hearing about the issues that mean the most to members. I will attempt to address some of the comments below as best I can.

I believe a great place to start would be in copyright issues. An immediate change would be to allow society members the rights to record and post songs to which the Society holds copyright as long as its for non-commercial purposes. This would allow for many more performances to link to on YouTube, and for a lot more “free” distribution of high-quality .mp3s.

For those arrangements which we own and control entirely, the Society allows members to post on-line live performances at no charge in most cases. However, to make sure that we can keep a handle on the quality of the presentation, and context within which the music is used, we ask that members request permission and describe the use. For CD duplication and MP3 posting (mechanical) uses of these arrangements, if the CDs are for promotional and educational purposes only and not for sale, we also allow free use.

Down the road, the Society should think about expanding the PUBLIC DOMAIN by releasing all those arrangements which it does not publish. There have to be hundreds or thousands which have been donated that are not being commercially released.

In answer to the above, I will start by clarifying the term “public domain”. In the U.S., the term “public domain” refers to the fact that a song was originally published prior to the year 1923, or that the copyright was not renewed by the publisher. Any other song used for an arrangement is under copyright. These rules are set by the federal government. So it is not possible for the Society to expand or change what songs/arrangements are in the public domain. We continue to keep current on the latest copyright issues and laws and how they affect our membership.

All of the arrangements that we do not publish are owned by an entity other than the Society; either a publisher, or in the case of a Public Domain arrangement, the arranger who submits it. We are granted the right to make copies of them available to our members with the stipulation that these entities will be paid each time a copy is sold. If the song itself is in PD, the arranger probably controls the copyright of that arrangement and has the right to make it available to a chorus or quartet for no fee, if he/she so wishes.

It would be as simple as scanning them into .pdfs and letting the barbershop community put them into a more portable form, like .mus files.

Because of our legal obligations to the copyright-holders of unpublished arrangements, it is important that we control the appearance and number of copies that are duplicated. That is why we insist that copies be made from our Society-formatted PDFs. Some of our members have graciously volunteered to put the older, handwritten arrangements into Finale, which we greatly appreciate! However, these must be then reviewed by the Publications Editor and formatted with writer/composer/copyright holder info correctly placed.

Additionally, many of the arrangements that we do publish are licensed from third parties, and we have contracts in place that allow us to sell them with a percentage being paid to the original song publisher. In these cases, our rights only extend to the printed music and not to other uses.

That said, a good number of Society publications are based on public domain songs, and many are available for no cost on our website under “Free and Easy” and “Heritage of Harmony” at http://www.barbershop.org/resources/get-music.html. We are always working to expand these offerings. Additionally, we will definitely take your suggestion of making learning CDs for these arrangements available for free under consideration, keeping in mind that they do cost the Society money to produce.

Lastly, the Society should support the repeal of the laws which have extended copyright long beyond those limits envisioned by the Founding Fathers — fourteen years extendable to twenty-eight years. This is SPECIFICALLY for the development and preservation of the arts and culture. When “Happy Birthday” is controlled by a corporation, then something has gone terribly awry.

The Society’s stance on copyright is settled where two important principles are concerned:

1. Members should have access to the greatest number of songs possible—if they want to sing something, we’ll do our best to help make it happen!

2. Artists and copyright holders should be paid when we use their property. We will comply 100% with whatever laws are on the books.

I cannot speculate on any proposed changes in the law; however, I suggest it is unlikely that the Society will ever take a stance that could alienate us from the song writers and publishers we all depend upon for cooperation. That would jeopardize Society members’ access to their music!

Bottom line: If copyright holders aren’t happy, our members won’t be happy. Serving one necessitates having good relationships with the other.

I hope that clarifies some things. Thanks again for your input!


Julie Grower