copyright question about orchestrations and arrangements

June 23, 2008 at 06:28 PM · I want to ask a question about the copyright issues. If you have written arrangements and orchestrations of works by modern composers for your ensemble yourself, who do you pay the copyright fees, or how can you find whom to pay these fees to? Should you pay for performing these orchestrations, or do copyright issues only appear when you record the pieces and sell these recordings? sorry if it sounds too amateurish a question :P

Replies (21)

June 23, 2008 at 06:41 PM · I see that you are in Belgium, so you could start by looking at the SABAM website.

June 24, 2008 at 05:43 PM · Besides the local laws that vary from a country to another ,you must have the composer's permission to arrange his works and therefore pay the rights for public performance

June 24, 2008 at 06:08 PM · In the U.S., and I suspect everywhere else, you don't need a composer's permission to either create an arrangement or perform a piece, although you can't sell recordings of that without permission. Theoretically, the performance venue pays an annual fee which covers live performances. It's paid to an organization called ascap or something. They had to pay a fee to the same outfit to have a jukebox on the premises too, I think.

June 25, 2008 at 08:15 AM · I don't believe that is an accurate statement regarding the right to make derivative works based upon copyrighted material.

June 25, 2008 at 09:04 AM · There are 69 million bands performing their own arrangements of a half-billion songs every night of the week, and none of them have to get permission from anybody to do it. But if a club owner has music then he's supposed to pay a flat fee to ascap or somebody. That's how it works. I swear.

June 25, 2008 at 09:14 AM · I'm no expert in copyright issues but I do believe that people "legally" cannot do their own arrangement from others' copyrighted material without the consent of the legal owner. The example of 69 million bands playing half a billion songs everynight is, quite true, but that doesn't mean it's right, let alone legal. There are still many people doing file sharing these days and they don't get caught, or not yet. They don't mind carry on sharing and downloading copyrighted material, but that doesn't mean they are doing something legal just because no one is at their doors.

Built up by many people around the world, I bet won't be too wrong to look at. Down in the middle of the page where the Exclusive right section is, it lists:

Several exclusive rights typically attach to the holder of a copyright:

* to produce copies or reproductions of the work and to sell those copies (including, typically, electronic copies)

* to import or export the work

* to create derivative works (works that adapt the original work)

* to perform or display the work publicly

* to sell or assign these rights to others

* to transmit or display by radio or video

The phrase "exclusive right" means that only the copyright holder is free to exercise those rights, and others are prohibited from using the work without the holders permission.

So I guess point 3 from above answers your original question.

June 25, 2008 at 09:55 AM · "So I guess point 3 from above answers your original question. "

Not so fast. If I made up a story and told it to you, and you told it to somebody else without asking me, do you think I could sue you? lol. Anyway, I told you the S.O.P.

June 25, 2008 at 01:08 PM · As someone who deals with copyright issues on a nearly daily basis I would add that the work must be in "tangible form" to be covered under the concept of implied copyright. Therefore the telling of story transmitted only verbal is not germane to the discussion. For works that are eligible for copyright, the holder of the copyright has the sole ability to create derivative works.

June 25, 2008 at 02:25 PM · "...but that doesn't mean it's right, let alone legal."

I think that if there's some music that you want to do that you feel strongly enough about doing, and feel that your audience needs to hear it... and aren't getting that from anywhere else, then you should do it. Obviously you should try to do things properly, but if publishers are making it too hard to do 'the right way', then just do it anyway.

Make due effort to do it 'right', but if there are too many obstacles that are interfering with your art, then are you willing to let this kind of thing keep you from fulfilling your artistic purpose? Your artistry is more important than a bunch of rules.

Either that, or... a bunch of rules are going to keep you from being the artist you want to be. That's a tragedy, and is probably the kind of thinking that has concert programming pandering to retirees.

Especially if you've taken the time to write your own arrangements of stuff you love, and you're seeking ways to properly respect your mentors that wrote it, but are hitting dead ends. They should be paying you for having done all of that legwork and for the exposure of the music your performance will yield, reinvigorating those sounds and generally being constructive. Dang.

June 25, 2008 at 04:38 PM · Bob, then say that one or both had incidently written an outline down at some point as a memory jog. Then it's tangible...though not even part of what transpired...

Like I said, I just gave the Standard Operating Procedure. The rest would take a lawyer - it really would.

"They should be paying you for having done all of that legwork and for the exposure of the music your performance will yield, reinvigorating those sounds and generally being constructive. Dang. "

Thomas that's a sore spot of mine; people deciding what's right and considering that to trump ownership. I've got a next door neighbor who's liable to decide I don't deserve my house and try to take it over :)

June 25, 2008 at 04:37 PM · There are 69 million bands performing their own arrangements of a half-billion songs every night of the week...

Jim, the use of the word "arrangements" is a bit misleading here isn't it?. In the world of 69 million bands copyright certainly exists, and it's possible that some of those 69 million bands are playing their own arrangements where they are legally a joint copyright owner having arranged another songwriter's material, but the vast majority are probably just playing their own songs where the band, or member(s) of the band are the copyright owners. Or they might be playing covers, a song by a songwriter completely outside of their band. The fact that they might play it with ten guitars and a euphonium instead of the original synth and guitar doesn't make it an arrangement. In this case they are simply playing somebody else's song. In this case I think it's better to reserve the word "arrangement" for where someone has used somebody's copyrighted material with their, or their editor's permission, and accordingly made a declaration to a performing right society after negociating the percentage for their arrangement.

June 25, 2008 at 04:45 PM · It's easy to see, why do people copyright their material? It's to protect their properties. And those who carry out the job mostly aren't artist. They only look at the financial way, not the moral value.

June 25, 2008 at 04:50 PM · Nigel, it takes a lawyer to do what you're trying to do. It really does. Check this out - the courts have held a photo of an object is a derived work. The courts have held financial gain is irrelevant in the matter. So if you take a photo of your car and toss it in your desk what have you just done... It takes a lawyer...

June 25, 2008 at 07:08 PM · I amend my comment.

I can't disagree about the ownership issue that Jim brings up. That is absolutely valid.

I suppose I just wanted to add to the conversation that I sympathize with anyone trying to properly get permission/make financial arrangements etc. for a program.

It is difficult to 1) be able to find good arrangements at all for your particular ensemble, and 2) wade through the bureaucracy involved in properly getting the credit ($) to the composers.

Ultimately, though, it seems a waste, a shame, and somehow unacceptable to not perform something because of paperwork. Especially if you've artistically enhanced it.

Composers should absolutely get their due. I ultimately feel it's worth the trouble to do the diligence to make that happen. But as an artist, if you let the bureaucracy keep you from developing, your chances of withering away are much higher. So there is kind of an interesting balance here.

Hiring a pro as suggested is probably the easiest and best way to cross your t's and dot your i's.

June 25, 2008 at 07:58 PM · While you're at it, call F. Lee Bailey and ask him if I can play Blackbird at the open mic next week :)

June 26, 2008 at 06:39 AM ·

June 26, 2008 at 08:46 AM · oh, this is still going on~ :p

June 27, 2008 at 09:50 PM · FYI:

from the ASCAP site:

"Some people mistakenly assume that musicians and entertainers must obtain licenses to perform copyrighted music or that businesses where music is performed can shift their responsibility to musicians or entertainers. The law says all who participate in, or are responsible for, performances of music are legally responsible. Since it is the business owner who obtains the ultimate benefit from the performance, it is the business owner who obtains the license.... "

However, the above does not necessarily mean a performer is immune when a copyright holder comes suing the establishment.

It is best to look at the standing of the works you want to perform as they pertain to ASCAP or similar group and then ask questions.

Don't rely upon the venue to cover the details. Don't assume they have followed the law. Verify they have, if you intend on performing material that carries a copyright and especially if you you are getting paid for your trouble.

Better safe than sorry.

The key word for performing copywritten material is "money." If you are engaged in anything that remotely smacks of an exchange of money, even raising funds for a non-profit, you can become a target for the lawyers.

June 29, 2008 at 05:20 PM · hey thanks a lot everyone, for giving your opinions. i have followed the links as well, and you are right, it is pretty complicated.

we are an amateur orchestra, and therefore we do not try to profit from the concerts. but we do sell tickets of course, to be able to pay for the orchestra's expenses.

anyways, i think it will not be worth the trouble. instead of working on arrangements, we will try to work on our own creations. that is our final decision, it will be a bit tough and will take a while i think but i hope it will be worth it :)

thanks again.

June 29, 2008 at 08:05 PM · Thomas,

Artistry is all fine and good, but I hope you have $300,000 lying around. (I'm not making that up either!)

July 1, 2008 at 10:42 AM · There are performance rights, mechanical rights/Compulsory rights (recorded media), and publishing rights (sheet music/lyrics) that are in play here (leaving out rights for movies/TV shows).

Performance rights. When you perform the location of your performance needs to have a license from BMI/ASCAP. That license pays the fees to composers for the performance of their works.

Mechanical rights/Compulsory rights. Recording and selling/giving away a recording of the performance. Compulsory if you don't change the basic melody or fundamental character, this right can be obtained without negotiation for a few cents per anticipated sale/giveaway of a recording of each piece. This must be done in advance. Mechanical rights are negotiated if you create a derivative of the work(fundamentally change the melody/character). Simplifying the piece/changing instrumentation without changing the basic melody isn't a derivative work.

Publishing rights. Giving away/selling the sheet music/lyrics.

IF you are not recording the performance and are not using the sheet music for anything other than that performance the only right that comes into play is the performance rights. Make sure the theater/auditorium/etc is licensed with BMI/ASCAP.

As pointed out above, there are thousands of bands performing works all of the time. Most of the time they are simply performing the song, and most of the time they have changed instrumentation, left out instrumentation, simplified it to varying degrees. Yet many have even changed the genre (take a fast song and perform it as a blue song, or as a reggae song). Sometimes they write out the parts, most of the time they don't. As long as they don't record the performance for anything other than personal use, and don't give away/sell their arrangement, the BMI/ASCAP license obtained by the restaurant/bar covers it.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Shopping Guide Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine