Christmas and copyright

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Dave Payn, Oct 23, 2003.

  1. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    No doubt there are some budding arrangers (like me!) wanting to pen a few festive arrangements for band. I'm not acting under any official capacity here, but I merely wish to avoid seeing people get into unnecessary trouble with publishers by inadvertently arranging their copyright material in the belief that the work/s in question may be out of copyright. So here are a list of 'festive favourites' that you will need to obtain prior permission in order to arrange.

    The tune usually sung/played in Europe is a traditional work, but under PRS-MCPS rules is fully copyright by having been 'collected' by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Permission to arrange should be sought from Oxford University Press (01865 556767. Ask for Music Copyright department)

    Usually sung to the words 'On Christmas Night all Christians Sing'. Same collector details but the publisher is Stainer and Bell Ltd (020 8343 3303)

    Usually sung to the words 'Little Jesus, Sweetly Sleep', this work, though a Czech traditional tune, is also fully copyright in the UK, having been 'collected' by Martin Shaw. Again, permission to arrange should be obtained from OUP

    Largely a traditional work, but the tune accompanying the phrase 'Five Gold Rings' first appeared in an arrangement by Frederic Austin, which is owned by Novello. This 'Five Gold Rings' element is copyright! Anyone wishing to arrange this should speak to (and ask specifically for) the copyright department at Novello and Co Ltd (020 7434 0066)

    There are two tunes usually accompanied with this Christmas work. The more 'hymn-like' version (found in most brass band Carol books!) was written by Gustav Holst and is copyright until 31st December NEXT year. Permission to arrange should be obtained from OUP. The other version is more of a choral work, composed by Harold Darke (d. 1976) (starts with a couple of bars of quiet organ intro, then first verse sung by boy trebles/ladies, if you know the version I mean!) and permission to arrange should be sought from Stainer and Bell Ltd. (020 8343 3303)

    This also comes under the 'collected' banner, collected by John Niles and owned in the UK by G Schirmer Ltd. (020 7434 0066. Ask for G Schirmer copyright)

    Other Chrimbo tunes that some people might be wondering whether copyright subsists:

    A fully copyright work (Jester Hairston) and owned by Bourne Music Ltd (020 7734 3454)

    Composed by Sergei Prokofieff and part of his Lieutenant Kije suite, again this is fully copyright and owned by Boosey and Hawkes. (020 7580 2060)

    These are the main Christmas works which could cause problems. If you have any queries, send me a private message, or contact me during work hours on 020 7306 4214.

    As I implied, I'm not doing this to be a jobsworth, nor am I about to embark upon some sort of 'inspection'. I'm simply passing on information I hope will be useful to composers, arrangers and publishers out there.

    Kind regards
  2. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    An addendum

    I should have pointed, out, with regard to O Little Town of Bethlehem, the most well known tune I was referring to (i.e. the 'collected by Vaughan-Williams' tune) is called Forest Green. There is another tune, usually sung in North America, by Lewis Redner which is out of copyright.

  3. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    As I understand it, if you arrange the TUNE of o Little town of bethlehem and call it Forrest Green, then you'll be facing copyright issues, but if you call it O Little Town of Bethlehem you won't!

    It's just like calling Prince Igor, 'Stranger in Paradise' same tune, one is in copyright, the other isn't!

    If this rule has changed then I must admit I know nothing of it.
  4. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    I'm not entirely convinced O Little/Forest Green is quite the same scenario as Polovtsian Dances/Stranger in Paradise. Stranger in Paradise is so called as lyrics (and a song title) were subsequently added for the film/musical Kismet to an already existing Borodin tune (p.s. There are elements of the ORIGINAL Prince Igor which are still in copyright, by the way, through joint composition, not to do with Kismet....)

    I, for one, wasn't aware of any rule saying 'If you call it this then it's OK'. I suspect it's the sort of rule similar to the one some cyclists employ when faced with a red light.... If you arrange 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' and call it as much, using the Forest Green tune, technically, you should still get permission. In the end, as I say, I'm only being a messenger. It's not PRS that can issue legal notices for breaches of copyright, that usually comes from the copyright owners themselves, though personally, I would say it's better to be safe than sorry.
  5. Sam Atherton

    Sam Atherton Member

    Sorry if I'm asking a stupid question, but what does 'collected' mean in this context? Just curious, really.
  6. Brian Bowen

    Brian Bowen Active Member

    People like Vaughan Williams, Cecil Sharpe and Percy Grainger are credited with having "collected" folk songs of unknown authorship. They did so by writing down the melodies/lyrics in a definitive form after hearing them sung, usually by country folk. Before that, these songs were not in print but were handed down orally from generation to generation.

    Brian Bowen
  7. TheMusicMan

    TheMusicMan tMP Founder Staff Member

    Hey Dave - really informative stuff this - thanks for posting...:)
  8. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    So if you did the 12 days of christmas jumping from 6 to 4 you'd be ok?
  9. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Spot on, Brian.
  10. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Jumping from 4 to 6 would be the correct order! Still, when I first heard about it, I seem to remember asking a similar question! :)
  11. Di B

    Di B Member

    A thought, if you arranged the twelve days of christmas but used rests instead of playing '5 gold rings' would that be ok?

    Just thinking you could encourage audience participation on the piece and if the audience was singing along you couldn't force them not to sing something could you?

    Would this be a breach of copyright? Would the breach of copyright be by the band or the audience?!

    Not arranging it at all - I have all my christmas music thanks but I'm just the inquisitive sort! :wink:
  12. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Just to clarify. I merely said that arranging the 12 days of Christmas may make you wish to contact Novello's. It's hardly likely they'll refuse. And though I may be treading on dangerous ground by saying this (I'll ring Novello again and confirm) I hardly think they'd want to check and sanction every performance of it. (After all, Happy Birthday to You is still in copyright...) I don't think they'd want mass swathes of Christmas concerts cancelled or otherwise butchered by this rule. I'll come back with more info.
  13. iggmeister

    iggmeister Member

    Not wanting to bore the pants off anybody but copyright is something that accrues naturally to many things, one of which is music.

    If you arrange the tune of a piece which is no longer protected by copyright, (usually because it is an old tune), then you will not be in any trouble. However, many arrangers do this. Therefore, if say, Barry Forgie arranged a piece out of copyright for the BBC Big Band and somebody then came and did an arrangement of that same tune, they would not be in breach of copyright. However, if they used all of Barry Forgie's chords etc then they would be breaching his copyright, i.e. the cpyright he enjoys in his arrangement, not in the tune itself.

    It isn't always a straightforward matter and you have to be careful when doing arrangements or versions of tunes as you may be breaking numerous different copyrights.

    With regard to collected tunes, this is not something of which I am very familiar. However, I would expect that so long as you can prove that the underlying tune was not written by e.g. Vaughn Williams then you could use the tune. He, (or rather his estate), only has copyright for what he has written which is original. His arrangement may be in copyright but not necessarily the tune itself.

    I'd like to hear comments on this.

  14. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    So far as 'collected' works are concerned. It's a case of 'finders: keepers'. In the UK, full copyright protection is given to those tunes 'collected in the field' which would not have otherwise been made public. The PRS treats these works as though the 'collector' were the original composer. Sorry to be a killjoy. I didn't decide this rule (and my own personal thoughts about it should perhaps remain private... remember, I see it from both sides as a player and a PRS employee) but that's the situation.


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