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  1. #1
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Public Domain

    What is the easiest way to tell if a song is in the public domain? Just got word that the local farmer's market ($200 for a 2 hour outdoor gig, and lots of fun) now requires all performers to play only their originals or public domain songs. I'm pretty sure most of the bluegrass, old time, folk and trad I do is ok, but how do I make sure short of searching the catalogs of all the PRO's? Thanks!

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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Check with the Library of Congress on line, or with BMI. It might take some navigating around to find the answer. Plug in the song title and search. Good luck.

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Quote Originally Posted by Denny Gies View Post
    Check with the Library of Congress on line, or with BMI. It might take some navigating around to find the answer. Plug in the song title and search. Good luck.
    Well there's BMI, ASCAP and SESAC to deal with. I'm not making this post to debate the tactics of the PRO's, copywrite law or how songwriters get paid (or dont). I've done that plenty on other threads. I will comply with the wishes of the people paying me $100/hr to play at one of my favorite venues. Just looking for an efficient way to do that - hoping I didn't have to search through the entire catalogs of BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. Thanks for the Library of Congress tip.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    https://www.pdinfo.com/public-domain-music-list.php

    http://freemusicarchive.org/member/c...c_Domain_Songs

    And of course the suggestions listed above.

    Watch out for songs that are popular in the "bluegrass, old time, folk and trad" genres, but are actually copywritten pieces. For example, a lot of Bill Monroe's stuff was his own, and many other folks got some PRO to list their works.

    Also check with the Harry fox Agency.

    https://www.harryfox.com/

    They handle much of this sort of business.

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    Default Re: Public Domain

    There have been many discussions on this very topic. We have lost several venues due to new copyright strategies. I called BMI in behalf of a venue we were playing traditional old time music, not for performance but on the slowest night, just to have a get together. Well there were 7 pages, I didn't look to see how many more, of copyrighted Mississippi Sawyer arrangements. Seems like you can now take a trad tune and copyright your arrangement so it's hard to play anything that is legal. If you are playing originals and you have copyrighted them the venue still must pay for you to play your original material. Uncopyrighted original material is about all you can safely play. My personal belief is only the composer should be able to hold a copyright, when it is surrendered or comes due no one should be able to hold it or out bid you for possession of that material. Oh you can sing Happy Birthday, they have let that one go free.
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    FWIW, BMI sent Scouts out to get venues to pay the fee for recorded music,
    including people playing Covers of Copyright songs,

    To Avoid paying,
    Open Mics restricted what was allowed.. your own songs , or get kicked out.

    Even went after the dancers 'independent contractors' at the town's "clothing optional" performance bar..
    for their dance music recordings..

    Some Publishers keep renewing copyrights .... Acuff- Rose?

    How does Karaoke function ?, they have to be recognizable Pop songs ..
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

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    Default Re: Public Domain

    They also see posts on Facebook like " wow good band last night at ________ " Or see the video posted that someone took on their phone. They used to subscribe to local newspapers to look for ads for live music. I think it's easier to do it all online now, everyone posts about everything.
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Keep in mind people can and have copyrighted arrangements of songs that are in the public domain. If you play it just like Ricky did on his last album or the way Jessie did it on his first album you might still run afoul of the copyright laws even if the song is in the public domain. It's stupid but that's the way it is.

    Two venues I play at regularly have agreements with ASCAP to cover the performers. They pay a licensing fee. God knows who ends up with the money but it protects the venue and the acts from any legal repercussions.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Unfortunately if you play an old time tune, the tune is the tune. If it has a copyrighted arrangement even tho it is the same as 1000 other folks play it you are in violation. If you change it and make it your own that is one thing, but a public domain tune played by tens of thousands of folks for a more than a century and now you can't play it without someone paying copyright fees is just not right in my opinion. Years ago I asked ASCAP why there wasn't a sheet at bars for the bands to write the songs they were playing so the correct folks could get paid. ASCAP that would be cost prohibitive. So the bottom line is the correct people don't even get the money they deserve. That to me is not a viable business. I have a friend that toured with Odetta for two years before she died, he tours all over as a solo, England, Italy, etc. He has several albums out, he got a check for $.14 once. He has been touring and doing his original music for over 20 years.
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    A safe bet is to play anything from 1920 and earlier using the arrangements from that time too. Any sheet music with the artist listed as "traditional" is a safe bet too.

    You can also use lists like https://www.pdinfo.com/pd-music-genr...ular-songs.php or http://freemusicarchive.org/member/c...c_Domain_Songs to find public domain tunes.

    All that said, it's entirely possible that a song on the list (like After You've Gone from 1918) may have Public Domain arrangements as well as arrangements that are still copyright protected as well.

    Unfortunately, I've heard tale that publishers do send out scouts as noted earlier and will take the slightest infraction (i.e. a Public Domain tune played similarly to a copyrighted arrangement) and fine the venue and/or performer.

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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Ten or twenty years ago maybe you could have done this. My choice of Mississippi Sawyer was because it was traditional and from the 1800's. A Mississippi sawyer is a hazard for steamboats on the river. A sawyer, preacher, etc. were hazards. This was a public domain tune as were countless others until the copyright laws changed. It wasn't the only one I looked up and the contact at BMI said they were all copyrighted. I did not find Squirrel Heads and Gravy in the list, so they all aren't, or weren't. Copyright was for 7 years, but after Michael Jackson outbid the Beatles for ownership of their songs and sold them for elevator music. Sonny Bono got the time changed to 70 years to protect his copyrighted songs. Sorry this is a sore topic for me, I should go to my corner as some say here.
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Back in my DJ days, once a year we had to write down the title, artist and the licensing company of each song we played. We did it for a week. This was when we actually used records and later, NAB Type II tape cartridges. Ostensibly, it was to determine the license fees we paid to the three companies. It was a genuine pain in the keister.
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  23. #13

    Default Re: Public Domain

    I just asked that at two other forums. The short answer is that it's very hard to know for sure. Main things to know:

    - If it was written more than 95 years ago (February, 1913), it's PROBABLY public domain.

    - You have to pay Library of Congress to research research copyrights.

    - As mentioned above, many folk songs have been copyrighted. For example, the Carter family copyrighted a lot of them. So did Leadbelly and others.

    - There are public domain lists on the web, but none are at all comprehensive. So you can use them to find things you CAN play, but they're useless for finding out what you CAN'T.

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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    >>> Back in my DJ days, once a year we had to write down the title, artist and the licensing company of each song we played. We did it for a week. This was when we actually used records and later, NAB Type II tape cartridges. Ostensibly, it was to determine the license fees we paid to the three companies. It was a genuine pain in the keister. <<<


    Wow, do I remember those days, back in the 70's and 80's. During that week I would go out of my way to find favorite old hits by nearly-forgotten artists, and play those particular songs so that the guys would (hopefully) get a few extra bucks in royalties.

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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeZito View Post
    >>> Back in my DJ days, once a year we had to write down the title, artist and the licensing company of each song we played. We did it for a week. This was when we actually used records and later, NAB Type II tape cartridges. Ostensibly, it was to determine the license fees we paid to the three companies. It was a genuine pain in the keister. <<<


    Wow, do I remember those days, back in the 70's and 80's. During that week I would go out of my way to find favorite old hits by nearly-forgotten artists, and play those particular songs so that the guys would (hopefully) get a few extra bucks in royalties.
    Believe it or not, those days started in the 60s for me. I've come to the realization that I'm old.

    One station I worked for still had record-cutting machines that they had used for commercials.
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  28. #16
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Keep in mind people can and have copyrighted arrangements of songs that are in the public domain. If you play it just like Ricky did on his last album or the way Jessie did it on his first album you might still run afoul of the copyright laws even if the song is in the public domain. It's stupid but that's the way it is.

    Two venues I play at regularly have agreements with ASCAP to cover the performers. They pay a licensing fee. God knows who ends up with the money but it protects the venue and the acts from any legal repercussions.
    Who ends up with the money? The writers of the music. That's what a PRO is for.

    ASCAP and BMI do not exist to make life difficult for music venue owners and bands.

    They exist to protect the rights of the composers.

    I am a BMI artist and get a decent regular payments for my own music.

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    Unfortunately if you play an old time tune, the tune is the tune. If it has a copyrighted arrangement even tho it is the same as 1000 other folks play it you are in violation. If you change it and make it your own that is one thing, but a public domain tune played by tens of thousands of folks for a more than a century and now you can't play it without someone paying copyright fees is just not right in my opinion. Years ago I asked ASCAP why there wasn't a sheet at bars for the bands to write the songs they were playing so the correct folks could get paid. ASCAP that would be cost prohibitive. So the bottom line is the correct people don't even get the money they deserve. That to me is not a viable business. I have a friend that toured with Odetta for two years before she died, he tours all over as a solo, England, Italy, etc. He has several albums out, he got a check for $.14 once. He has been touring and doing his original music for over 20 years.
    It sounds like your friend has a bad contract or is not making money from record sales.

    First, the bands do not pay for live performance use, the venue does.

    Second, you can record PD music, best is if you copyright your own version.

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    Ten or twenty years ago maybe you could have done this. My choice of Mississippi Sawyer was because it was traditional and from the 1800's. A Mississippi sawyer is a hazard for steamboats on the river. A sawyer, preacher, etc. were hazards. This was a public domain tune as were countless others until the copyright laws changed. It wasn't the only one I looked up and the contact at BMI said they were all copyrighted. I did not find Squirrel Heads and Gravy in the list, so they all aren't, or weren't. Copyright was for 7 years, but after Michael Jackson outbid the Beatles for ownership of their songs and sold them for elevator music. Sonny Bono got the time changed to 70 years to protect his copyrighted songs. Sorry this is a sore topic for me, I should go to my corner as some say here.
    Well, for one thing you could do your own arrangement of a trad tune and copyright that version for yourself.

    I am not sure it is as restrictive as you make it sound. Public Domain is still open for use, I just have to register MY arrangement as a composer/writer with my PRO, and I'm in the clear.

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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    Ten or twenty years ago maybe you could have done this. My choice of Mississippi Sawyer was because it was traditional and from the 1800's. A Mississippi sawyer is a hazard for steamboats on the river. A sawyer, preacher, etc. were hazards. This was a public domain tune as were countless others until the copyright laws changed. It wasn't the only one I looked up and the contact at BMI said they were all copyrighted. I did not find Squirrel Heads and Gravy in the list, so they all aren't, or weren't. Copyright was for 7 years, but after Michael Jackson outbid the Beatles for ownership of their songs and sold them for elevator music. Sonny Bono got the time changed to 70 years to protect his copyrighted songs. Sorry this is a sore topic for me, I should go to my corner as some say here.
    Your contact told you that because the only tunes that BMI keeps records of are tunes that BMI members have copyrighted versions of. Simple solution: don't play those versions.

    Every musical work published in the US before 1922 is in the public domain. There is no mechanism to take a public domain work out of the public domain.

    Copyright was never for 7 years. The shortest was for 14 years, and that was back in 1790. As of 1976, it was either for 75 years or for 50 years after the holder's death. The 1998 Copyright Act (the "Bono Act") merely extended that to holder's life plus 70 years.

    The main purpose of the "Bono Act" (he didn't write it) was to protect the Disney Corp and the major sports leagues: their logos & characters etc are now "works of corporate authorship" and protected for 120 years after they were created.
    Last edited by jesserules; Feb-21-2018 at 11:47pm.

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  32. #18
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Quote Originally Posted by jesserules View Post
    Your contact told you that because the only tunes that BMI keeps records of are tunes that BMI members have copyrighted versions of. Simple solution: don't play those versions.

    Every musical work published in the US before 1922 is in the public domain. There is no mechanism to take a public domain work out of the public domain.
    http://creolejazzband.com/Downloads/...%20publish.pdf

    Here's an example, a book of tunes written before 1923!

    "This Fake Book has been assembled with tunes that have all been written prior to 1923.
    Therefore these are all out of copyright in the USA. I hope you enjoy the tunes."

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    Default Re: Public Domain

    I understand what you guys are saying, go back to public domain. I play old time music. The tune is the tune and we don't alter it. Now if 100 or more people have copyrighted that public domain tune it would be hard for me to play the melody, which is what they copyrighted without infringing on copyright. Does it mean that only if I play it with a banjo, guitar and fiddle if it was copyrighted that way I can add a mandolin and not violate, or if I add 5 fiddles it's a different version. BMI told me we couldn't play in public any old time tune with out the venue paying fees. They said they were all copyrighted. I was told this over the phone as they were making a venue pay that wasn't hiring us, wasn't paying us, even drinks, we came on their slowest night and sat in a circle just to have a place to play with friends that was large enough to hold us and not have the host if we were in someones home buying the beer. This has happened more than once. I also have a radio show, we still have to keep track four times a year for copyright. We have to play music that has a label, self released isn't supposed be played during that time. I would venture to say if you played every fri and sat night in a Beach Boys cover band Brian Wilson would not see a dime even tho the venue is paying copyright fees to have live music. There is a tremendous amount of $$$$ coming in and not going to those who the copyright organizations are supposed to be protecting. That is part of my problem, and the fact of public domain music being taken away from playing for fun. Gigs are another thing.

    David if I and a couple hundred others play a tune from your book and copyright our arrangements then it becomes hard to play that tune and not infringe on copyright laws. We could all play it as written without changes and copyright our arrangement. I find if hard to believe at least seven pages, more than 100 easy, of folks could play Mississippi Sawyer differently enough to have different arrangements of the tune and still have it be Mississippi Sawyer, yet all have copyrights of the same tune.
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  36. #20

    Default Re: Public Domain

    Just write out a new set list that will comply with their restrictions. If you do not know the status of a song, look it up on the computer. Seems pretty easy, 30-40 songs at the most, right?

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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Jeff I looked up several tunes that were from 1800's - 1930's that were on a large list of tunes we have. I found one that wasn't in BMI's copyrighted list, I didn't check ASCAP or SESAC. It's not that easy anymore.
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  38. #22
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Yes I plan on 40. My usual set list has a lot of John Prine, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, TVZ, etc. So I will have to focus on older music.

  39. #23

    Default Re: Public Domain

    Do all originals? Take longer solos? Noodle more? More onstage banter between songs?

  40. #24
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Anyone know if the rules apply to private parties that aren't open to the public...? Like wedding parties?
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  41. #25
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    Default Re: Public Domain

    Ascap and BMI leave the biker bars and mafia owned clubs alone. They will bully the grannies, but are scared of people who will shove them into an oil drum or woodchippper, or dump them down an abandoned mine shaft.

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