Commissioners owning the rights to music?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by nethers, Dec 30, 2008.

  1. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    [shamelessplug] In my position of joint manager of Australasia's most awesome sheet music company, http://www.emusic-online.com (always on the lookout for new music to distribute downunder) [/shamelessplug] a new situation has popped up that I'm really not sure about the answer to.

    A friend of ours, a few years ago, commissioned a piece of music from a well known arranger. Said arranger completed the piece and handed the score/parts and rights over to my friend. It has since been played a few times and been very popular, but as my friend has the only legal copy (and owns the rights as the commisioner) it has never been distributed.

    Both as a favour to us, and acknowledging time moving on, our friend has asked us to distribute the piece on his behalf through our company.

    So the question is - can we sell this music without consulting the arranger? I intend to ask him anyway as a courtesy, but where do we stand legally?

    Are there limitations on what our friend who commissioned the piece can do with it?

    Thanks!
     
  2. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    Depends on the contract - have you seen it or can you get at it?

    The usual (for want of a better word) situation is that following a commission there's a period of exclusivity (which is normally 12 months), but after that point the composer / arranger usually is free to publish in their own right.

    An additional complication can arise with arrangements, however. Sometimes permission is only given for the commissioner to perform it (so publication is forbidden in the T&C associated with the permissions for the arrangement) such that only one copy should be in existence....additionally, restrictions on broadcast / recording can also be made....

    Copyright can be a minefield, and very much relies on interpretation, but if it was done 'properly' there should be documents pertaining to rights.
     
  3. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    You might find the answer to this copyright situation (for Australia) here.
     
  4. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    From said link:

    Interpretation of the second bit again ;)
     
  5. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    I didn't want to answer the question ... the examples quoted seem to only associate with image copies of the commissioner. :rolleyes: However, it is about an arrangement rather than an original creation.
     
  6. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    Incidentally, Brassneck's quite right in pointing out that there might well be territorial differences....and something that appears to be quite subtle could really be quite a broad brush stroke.

    Best thing to do is consult a copyright lawyer in your territory.
     
  7. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    Indeed - which could serve to muddy the waters even more....or not :hammer
     
  8. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    So the best course of action seems to be (as a commisioner) to have a written agreement with the creator spelling out exactly what your rights will be.

    I've never commissioned a piece of music myself (as a composer) and never given much thought to the rights of the commisioner when I have produced them in the past, it's an interesting topic!
     
  9. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    As far as I know about UK law, any sales distribution of an arrangement must be negotiated with the current copyright owner (not necessarily the author) with fees/royalties agreed. I think this is fairly universal.
     
  10. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    It's certainly the way I do it. Some things may be non-negotiable, though - it depends exactly what's asked for.

    Be prepared though, that if you approach someone to write something for you and you ask for lifetime exclusivity then you're likely to put the fees up rather a lot.....as the subsequent income from them selling the piece may be a substantial chunk of money to 'lose'...
     
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  12. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    I'd agree with that :p
     
  13. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    I believe that's what happened with a couple of arrangements I released for publication. Sales invoices are collected annually.
     
  14. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Active Member

    The answer really depends on whether the piece in question is an arrangment of a copyright piece or not.

    If it is in copyright, then whoever owns the print rights for Australia needs to determine who is allowed to sell it. Having permission to arrange a piece does not give you the right to sell it.

    If it's not in copyright, the arranger owns all rights.

    The commissioner has no copyrights in the piece and therefore can't give permission to someone to sell it.
     
  15. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    The rights could be assigned by contract though, Philip, could they not (although unlikely)?

    Happy New Year btw :D
     
  16. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Active Member

    Yes indeed, but it is much more likely that the rights would be licensed than assigned.

    We're still a bit in the dark about the nature of this piece in question. But I'm assuming it's an arrangemnet of a copyright work. The copyright of the arrangement (ie the skill used in the arranging, rather than the finished piece itself) belongs to the arranger and everything else belongs to the copyright holder. If anyone wants to publish the piece both these parties would need to be consulted and licences sought.
     
  17. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Happy New Year Philip, Keith et al. Looks like we are covering old ground that centres on what permission and rights the arranger agreed at the time of the license grant. Distribution and sales still have to negotiated with the original copyright holder in my opinion for sharing of profits and royalties.
     
  18. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Sorry, I should have clarified. It's an arrangement of a classical work where copyright has expired.

    Thanks for all of the thoughts so far guys!
     
  19. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    - then there shouldn't be any problems publishing the ditty if it's in the public domain! (... unless ownership belongs to the party that commissioned it!)
     
  20. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Sorry, I'll try again!

    The original is now in the public domain - the arrangement I have been given is not!
     
  21. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Active Member

    Thanks for the clarification. That makes it much easier!

    The arranger (rather than the commissioner) will own the copyright in the piece and you would need to assign it from him/her if you want to publish it.
     
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