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GUEST,Okiemockbird 3/17 quote on value of public domain-sports (16) RE: 3/17 quote on value of public domain 24 Mar 00

"In 1948, Britten composed his realization of the The Beggar's Opera. Of the realizations made of this opera, Britten's was the first to use so many of the original songs, sixty-six of the sixty-nine airs. His realizations range from supplying original accompaniments to the development of operatic forms such as melodramas, scenas, and finales based on one or more tunes. The airs as treated by Britten may be classified ino six categories: (1) "Straight setting" (similar to his folksong settings); (2) "Straight settings, but with the phrases of the air spaced apart"; (3) "Straight settings, but with the melody itself treated freely"; (4) "Settings in which the air is worked into an elaborate, but formally concise, musical scheme" (subdivided into numbers with and without chorus); (5) "Settings embodied in larger musical designs" (numbers with introductions and codas based on original material derived from the airs); and (6) "Settings in which two or more airs are used in combination." As part of his settings, Britten was able to retain the original keys of a large number of the airs. He also restored Macheath's role from a baritone, as it had been sung for several years, to the original tenor."
--abstract of Norman Del Mar, "The Chamber Operas. III. The Beggar's Opera." In Benjamin Britten: A Commentary on His Works from a Group of Specialists, ed. Donald Mitchell and Hans Keller, 163-85. London: Rockliff, 1952; reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972, posted to href=

This example illustrates the importance of public domain in a number of ways:

(1) The Beggar's Opera itself would not have existed in the form in which John Gay wrote it had Gay not been free to copy musical airs from almost any source.

(2) Derived versions, such as Die Dreigroschsenoper and Britten's version would not exist if the original did not exist. The book of Die Dreigroschenoper relies heavily on The Beggar's Opera. The music is mostly original, but Weill copied one air from the source, "An Old Woman Cloak'd in Grey".

(3) The six categories of "settings" enumerated in the abstract quoted above show that there are forms of musical creativity, equally creative with fully original composition, that require copying of pre-existing material. The law has chosen, for policy purposes, to tax these forms of creativity in order to subsidize fully original composition. But all taxes, however valuable the goals for which they are levied, should be reasonable and moderate. In this context, it means that the term of copyright should be reasonable and moderate.


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