Copyright: when can we copy or alter without permission

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Brass Band Drummer, Feb 19, 2014.

  1. A discussion of copyright evolved on the following thread about tune-suggestions for a road march:

    I have started this thread to avoid cluttering the other thread any more.

    The following are some circumstances under which bands might copy, alter or rewrite the pieces that they play:

    • When avoiding payment for music.
    • When correcting errors, such as wrong notes, wrong or missing time or key signatures, and wrong or missing dynamics.
    • When omitting section(s); mostly repeats, but also other parts.
    • When rehashing parts judged to be off-style, written below the skill level suggested by the rest of the arrangement or otherwise judged not good enough. This occurs a great deal with drumkit parts, but it is not exclusive to them.
    • When making an unplayable piece playable; e.g. taping together single-sided sheets to eliminate impossible page-turns; bringing together parts for multiple players into a part for a single player; re-writing or altering a part where the arranger apparently does not know how the instrument works or can be played. Once again these situations are common with drumkit.
    • When transposing to another key to, for example, suit a learner-band, reserving the revised part to the band concerned, and taking care that the band has purchased a copy of the original arrangement.

    I expect that there are plenty of circumstances that I haven’t included.

    Obviously, copying to avoid payment is indefensible, and infringes statute and contract laws. However, as someone suggested on the other thread, if it was a simple and absolute case of "just don't copy or alter anything without permission then every band would be in trouble. Bearing in mind some of the rest of the circumstances that I have outlined, I agree.

    Clearly, reasonableness comes into the equation in the absence of case law and waivers by publishers. However, what is the case law, what are the waivers (if any) and where does reasonableness end and culpable infringement begin?

    What light can people throw on all of this?
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2014
  2. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    As you can guess, many of the circumstances you outline are in grey areas. The laws involve copyright - the right to copy. This includes written notes as well as recorded sound. It doesn't include performance. I mention this as it throws up an anomaly - while it is not illegal to transpose a part at sight (which of course happens with many orchestral trumpet parts) it is illegal to write down that transposed version without permission. A bizarre situation really. Also it is not illegal to omit repeats, or miss out a section, but it would be illegal to write out a shortened version.

    Fair use allows for copies to be made to help with impossible page turns, but transposing a whole march for a junior band would need permission - unless they can do it at sight! And correcting errors is of course OK.

    It is worth noting that pop or rock music doesn't usually exist in an original written score, so rearranging that for your own (rock) group (usually without written parts, I guess) is an essential and necessary part of the music actually being performed, though arranging it for brass band is of course deemed to need permission.

    And though rock composers probably don't mind (I'm assuming) have their pieces performed in cover versions, your average band composer would hate any changes to be made to a treasured test piece just because the performer 'feels' it differently.

    Not sure I've actually answered any questions, but it is clear that the rules are applied differently to different types of music. Hence the grey areas.
  3. Thank you for taking the trouble. What you've said is very helpful.

    A lot of what you say is exactly what I was getting at. For example, the question of memory versus writing material down I raised on the other thread. As I have already suggested, it is a real problem, very often, in the context of percussion (I am sorry to go on and on about it but it does have particular needs). Not least of those is this question of small bands such as my own, with a drumkit player only in percussion, tackling multi-player percussion without rearranging and rewriting. I think that this one area where that reasonableness-factor comes in clearly. In pursuit of that factor, and of practicality, I shall continue to alter, cut, paste, etc. so that we can play the pieces. I shall also continue using only paid-for arrangements.

    One other way to make percussion parts usable for all is to publish drumkit-specific arrangements as well as the separate parts - but economy and practicality probably suggest that I and others continue to use material as best we reasonably can.
  4. thepublican

    thepublican New Member

    I've always been under the impression that music (and lyrics) remain in copyright until 70 years after the composer's death. Not sure how that affects arrangements, 'editions' and transcriptions though.
  5. There is a Code of Fair Practice issued by the Music Publishers Association which answers the majority of the points raised here. There is an FAQs section and also a pdf of the full Code available on this link
  6. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    Indeed. But just please be aware this only an agreement drawn up by those publishers who sign up to it. It's not universal, or law, but very reasonable and useful.

    In terms of UK law, there is a concept of fair practice in the 1988 Copyright Act, which is outlined from No 6 here:-