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Author Topic: How to find out who the copyright holder is?  (Read 1151 times)

Nikolas

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How to find out who the copyright holder is?
« on: 03-03-13 at 12:02 am »

Hello,

I'm a music publisher of classical music.

As such, while I've been working only with living composers (talking with them is the easiest way to find out what's going on with rights), recently I've been looking to start publishing works of dead composers.

And here things are fairly complicated.

Being a small music publisher means that I can't afford any serious legal fees and thus hiring a lawyer to search for me is... impossible. As such I'm turning to you in case you can help.

My questions:

1. Copyrights vary from country to country. I'm situated in Greece. A well known example: 'Rite of Spring' by Stravinsky is in public domain in US grounds because it was published before 1923 (and) or failed to renew the copyright notice, as required by the law back then it IS in public domain. ONLY in the USA!

But today we live in a global world (through the Internet). So if I was to somehow create a company (a sister company?) in the USA, would that allow me to publish such works? Isn't this somewhat silly? :S

2. But my main question is this: How can I research who holds the copyrights of certain composers (Kavalevsky and Prokofiev). Kabalevsky died in 1987 but has been working for a few years prior to 1923 (a landmark date for US in copyrights), and Prokofiev died in 1953. (yes Prokofievs rights last a total of 74 years after his death given that he was alive and working in WW2... :D).

Any ideas on how to trace the copyright holders?



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MYK

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Re: How to find out who the copyright holder is?
« Reply #1 on: 03-13-13 at 05:51 am »

But if they're dead, they're no longer composing, they're . . . decomposing.






Sorry.  I'll go back to my cave now.
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Disclaimer: not only am I not a lawyer, I'm not your lawyer.  Therefore, this does not constitute legal advice.

JimIvey

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Re: How to find out who the copyright holder is?
« Reply #2 on: 03-13-13 at 11:12 am »

Any ideas on how to trace the copyright holders?

One way is to publish the works and see who sues you.

The inability to identify and contact copyright owners is a well-known flaw in copyright law (at least here in the US).  In the Congressional debates over the Sonny Bono "Steamboat Willie Will Never Be Public Domain" Act, Lawrence Lessig advocated a $1 copyright renewal every 10 years (I think) for the sole purpose of getting a registry of copyright owners and to allow orphaned works to become public domain.  Mickey Mouse said "Oh hell no!!"

As a result of his experiences, Lawrence Lessig left teaching IP at Stanford Law School and started studying/teaching the influence of money on our government at Harvard Law School. 

I don't know much about countries outside the US, but there really isn't much of a public domain here in the US.

Regards.
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artchain

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Re: How to find out who the copyright holder is?
« Reply #3 on: 03-13-13 at 12:56 pm »

This is a tough area.  Research can be very expensive, and is often inconclusive.

One thought:  are there trade publications among classical music publishers and enthusiasts where you could publish a request for information? 

That might be an inexpensive way to "beat the bushes."

mactheknife

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Re: How to find out who the copyright holder is?
« Reply #4 on: 03-14-13 at 09:09 pm »

This is actually a pet interest of mine, and yes, it's not easy.  My suggestions are to start by checking the following:

1. The websites of the performing rights societies (ASCAP and BMI).  These databases will list as "publisher" the company who is getting paid for public performances of the compositions.  Chances are it will be either the copyright owner, or a company that can direct you to the copyright owner.

2. The Copyright Office.  Depending on how late the work is, renewals will be searchable on line, as well as recorded copyright assignments and, in the case of those pesky "public domain" works that have been taken out of the public domain by the URAA (Prokofiev and Stravinsky among them), "notices of intent to enforce" the restored copyrights.

3. Your own knowledge -- as you say, 1923 is a magic date.  If you find out that a work was published before 1923 in the US, your likelihood of being sued for copyright infringement is next to nil and the likelihood of you actually infringing is lower than that.  The Library of Congress (which houses the copyright office) actually is a treasure trove of old editions.  Those editions, if American (and sometimes if not), will have a copyright notice on them.  Older is better.  Figuring this stuff out may be more the work of a historian rather than a lawyer; as was suggested in an earlier post, if you don't know one, maybe there are trade publications or even websites or academics near you that may help.

Here is a chart showing the copyright term for all sorts of works.
« Last Edit: 03-17-13 at 10:22 pm by mactheknife »
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artchain

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Re: How to find out who the copyright holder is?
« Reply #5 on: 03-15-13 at 08:53 am »


Here is a chart showing the copyright term for all sorts of works.

Your link didn't work.  Here is the chart:

http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm

Note that applies refers only to US law. 

JimIvey

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Re: How to find out who the copyright holder is?
« Reply #6 on: 03-15-13 at 09:09 am »

Your own knowledge -- as you say, 1923 is a magic date.  If you find out that a work was published before 1923 in the US, your likelihood of being sued for copyright infringement is next to nil and the likelihood of you actually infringing is lower than that. 

Just to clarify (and pardon my ignorance if I'm wrong about this), a recent recording of a performance of a public domain work can still be copyrighted.  So, if an orchestra records a performance of a public domain classical music piece, that recording is afforded copyright protection.  In particular, others are free to perform the same music, but copies of the orchestra's recording can't be freely distributed without the copyright owner's permission.

If the OP is recording and producing music performed by musicians, that would be fine if the music is public domain.  However, the OP probably isn't free to collect recordings of others more recently than 1923 and publish them.

Regards.
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mactheknife

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Re: How to find out who the copyright holder is?
« Reply #7 on: 03-17-13 at 10:32 pm »

Artchain: Link fixed.  You're right, it only applies to US law.  And to clarify to OP, my comments were really directed at the US only (because you seemed to have identified an anomaly in US law with respect to certain works).  As you have already figured out, copyright laws vary from country to country, and in fact copyright owners/exclusive licensees can vary from country to country.

Jim: What you've said is correct about recordings.  In my experience, a classical music publisher (which the OP indicated s/he is; please accept my apologies if I am wrong) generally prints and sells sheet music, perhaps with edits, fingering/bowing markings, critical commentary, etc., as opposed to creating recordings.  So that is why I didn't include that analysis.
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