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Topic: Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

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  1. #1

    Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

    I have written some original instrumental/vocal arrangements of songs by a well-known classic rock band. My ensemble is hoping to perform them next year and I'm curious as to what legal issues I'll need to deal with to keep it all legit.

    A few details:

    -My group is a not-for-profit (501c3) organization
    -Most of the venues are "non-venues" -- churches, etc. -- as far as I know they don't pay ASCAP / BMI licenses
    -The venues will be selling tickets for the concerts, but my group gets a flat fee for the appearance (we don't get a portion of the ticket sales.

    Anybody know what I need to do to make sure we're on the straight-and-narrow? What do cover bands do? (we're far from being a cover band, but I imagine the issues are similar).

    Thanks,
    chris.

    P.S. Further down the line I'm interested in publishing these arrangements (or trying to sell them to a publisher) -- any advice on doing this successfully and legally?

  2. #2

    Re: Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

    When I was in a cover band, it was always my understanding that it was the responsibility of the venue, not the band, to make proper performance rights arrangements. As a playing musician, I never did anything.
    juan

  3. #3

    Re: Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

    Juan is correct, you don't need to do anything. The venue is always the responsible party. There are thousands of cover bands all across the country and it would be impossible for them all to handle this on the band's end.

    Your church would either already be paying ASCAP/BMI (many religious songs are not public domain) or else ASCAP/BMI don't require annual fees from churches. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure churches are indeed exempt.

    ASCAP got into a mess of bad publicity when they tried to collect from Boy Scout camps 10 or 15 years ago. They were actually just going after regular campgrounds (KOA, etc) but the news media latched onto the fact that Boy Scout and church camps were included and that's what made the headlines. ASCAP backed down in a hurry! Since then, they've been very wary of the appearance of greed.

    Bottom line, don't worry about it. Both legally and ethically, you're fine.

  4. #4

    Re: Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

    Really???

    So I can take someone else's work, alter and arrange it, and perform it for money, without seeking permission from the copyright holder / publishing rights holder? And there are no legal issues to deal with? Seems to good to be true... Isn't it?

    chris.

    P.S. As far as I'm aware, most churches pay a CCLI license, which is a licensing company for Christian music. I'm not sure if they generally pay ASCAP and BMI.

  5. #5

    Re: Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

    [quote=CallMeZoot]Really???

    So I can take someone else's work, alter and arrange it, and perform it for money, without seeking permission from the copyright holder / publishing rights holder? And there are no legal issues to deal with? Seems to good to be true... Isn't it?[quote]

    No, it's true. Otherwise, every time any musician played any copyrighted music in a club, hotel, concert hall, etc. they would have to arrange ahead of time to pay the publishers. Imagine, if you're a cover band and you play 30 songs in an evening at a wedding reception - figure the logistics of tracking down as many as 30 different publishers and then negotiating that many licensing agreements, just for your one gig. What would you did if someone requested a tune you hadn't prearranged the legal rights for?

    ASCAP and BMI handle all this by making deals with every venue that provides music. They, the venues, pay a yearly fee that allows them free reign in offering music to their customers.

    What you CAN'T do is take copyrighted music, make an arrangement of it, and then SELL that arrangement without a license from the publisher (the one who owns the legal rights to the music). That can be policed at the micro-level (aka the publisher can track down and sue the arranger, and it has happened many times) so you need to have everything in writing in done properly. Many publishers have pre-existing agreements that they will require you to sign before they allow you to proceed with selling your arrangement.
    You can write all the arrangements you like, but as soon as money becomes involved, the publisher wants and deserves their fair share.

    For instance, a friend of mine has arranged several tunes that Hal Leonard owns and Hal Leonard's requirements are that you will pay them 15% of your sales from the sale of your arrangement. He initially approached them and made a deal for one tune, and then Hal Leonard went to my friend's website and found several other tunes that they owned that my friend didn't have licenses for (and was unaware tha Hal Leonard owned). He received a letter from the legal department shortly thereafter insisting upon licenses for those other songs or further legal action would be taken.

    There's a reason it's call the music BUSINESS.
    Paul Baker
    Baker's Jazz And More
    Austin, Texas, USA
    www.bakersjazzandmore.com

  6. #6

    Re: Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

    [quote=bmdaustin]
    Quote Originally Posted by CallMeZoot
    ASCAP and BMI handle all this by making deals with every venue that provides music. They, the venues, pay a yearly fee that allows them free reign in offering music to their customers.
    But if I am playing a ticketed event at a church that does not pay ASCAP and BMI, then what? As I mentioned earlier, most churches use CCLI licensing for Christian music, not ASCAP/BMI. Does that mean that performing any ASCAP- or BMI-managed music at this church is an infringement? And if I performed there, could I potentially be putting the church in a bad situation?

    I realize this kind of thing probably just "falls through the cracks" and that I probably don't need to worry, but I'm curious about the letter of the law in this situation.

    Thanks,
    chris.

  7. #7

    Re: Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

    Let me preface this by saying I am not lawyer, so you can present this to a real lawyer for official legal advice. However, I have never known it to be the responsibility of the performer to obtain legal permission or rights to perform a song. As I said before, it's just impossible to manage the system that way. I'm not familiar with all the the CCLI covers, but you could check with the office of the church you'll where be performing, and I'm sure they could tell you. You should have no worries about this.
    Paul Baker
    Baker's Jazz And More
    Austin, Texas, USA
    www.bakersjazzandmore.com

  8. #8

    Re: Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

    My understanding is that playing a version of a song in a live venue does not require the prior approval of the copyright holder. Rather, I believe that the copyright law includes compulsory licensing provision that applies in this case.

    I think that enforcing the compulsory licensing provisions is performed by different performing rights organizations, such as ASCAP and BMI.

    Based on the above comments, it appears that they do not enforce the compulsory licensing provisions as to houses of worship.

    Caveat: This is my vague impression. So don't bet your house on it.

    jeffn1
    For original progressive electronic rock influenced by J.S. Bach and (old) Rush, check out: www.soundclick.com/jeffreynaness.

  9. #9

    Re: Slightly OT: Performing original arrangements of copyrighted works?

    Paul and Jeff are right (with one trivial correction, compulsory license is the wrong term - that applies to making records.)

    ASCAP and BMI have huge databases with every restaurant, bar, school, campground, radio station, TV network, sports arena, etc listed and they know exactly what they collect from all of them. And ASCAP and BMI know churches exist and sometimes have music played in them.

    If your church is not paying an ASCAP license, they already know it. If they care (assuming they even require payments from churches,) they'd have already done something about it years ago.

    But the bottom line is that it's ASCAP and BMI's problem, not yours. So play whatever you want with no worries.

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