How can I tell if something is in the Public Domain?

June 29, 2018, 2:12 PM · IMSLP says that both the Strauss Horn concerto #1 and the Mozart horn concerto #2 (K. 417) are NOT in the public domain. What? Isn't it life + 50? They are both, of course, long dead.

This is a question in my new job as orchestra librarian, BTW. Hope it's OK.

Replies (8)

June 29, 2018, 2:20 PM · There are lots of editions of public domain works that have been edited to include fingerings, bowings, dynamic marks, etc. These editions are often not public domain because they are published under the editor's name. Anything by Mozart is public domain. If not, then it's the particular edition that's copyrighted.
June 29, 2018, 2:31 PM · Did finally find the Mozart in PD, but not all the parts. This is hard LOL.
June 30, 2018, 3:35 PM · In the U.S. the Copyright has been extended another generation to about 80 (?) years. Some call it the Disney/Mickey Mouse rule.
June 30, 2018, 4:17 PM · US copyright law is more complicated than that, and depends on the year of creation. It's easy to look up if you're interested. It keeps getting extended, and my understanding is that one of the most important forces prompting lawmakers to extend it is lobbying by the corporation that owns copyrights on George Gershwin's legacy. Whenever those copyrights are about to expire they push hard for another extension, and always seem to get it.
Edited: June 30, 2018, 5:06 PM · The quick answer to the OP's query is if it's in the IMSLP catalog then the chances are that that version (which may well be an original edition) is not in copyright. But always read through the headings carefully because sometimes there are exceptions such as, not in copyright in Canada but is in copyright in the US. Some modern composers may waive copyright in selected instances, so look out for those.

If a piece of music is only known when it is performed and the sheet music is unavailable to the public that could be because the descendants of the (dead) composer are sitting on it. The Doyley Carte operas (Mikado, Gondoliers etc) is a case in point. For many years the original scores were kept under wraps and used only for performances by the Doyley Carte Company. Everyone else who wanted to put on performances had to make do with modified editions (which of course attract their own copyright).

It happens also with books: a hitherto unknown book is released for publication by the family some years after the author's death, and that date of publication marks the start of copyright, and associated income for the descendants.

June 30, 2018, 5:13 PM · The parts for both of those horn concertos are available to my computer on IMSLP. Try ignoring what they say and dig down to the next level.
Edited: June 30, 2018, 8:56 PM · Andrew--I found them finally, as you say, but they do not have ALL the parts. Just SOME of the parts. At least I got the second violin parts LOL. Anyway, we ended up just renting the Strauss and will figure out the Mozart when the conductor gets back from a trip. :-)
June 30, 2018, 10:08 PM · Make sure the editions match. Articulations could be different, rehearsal numbers different at a minimum. There could even be pitch differences/rhymic differences between the 2nd vln and everything else. Mixing editions is always problematic.

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