Mudcat Café message #3069999 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #65401   Message #3069999
Posted By: GUEST,E. Friedman
08-Jan-11 - 02:37 PM
Thread Name: Questions Re: the Lomaxes and Copyright
Subject: RE: Questions Re: the Lomaxes and Copyright
Though this is a dead thread, perhaps someone will look at it. The questions above have now been answered in depth John Szwed's fascinating new biography, "The Man Who Recorded the World: a biography of Alan Lomax" (201l).

As someone mentioned above, copyright law has changed a great deal since the beginning of the twentieth century, when copyright ownership only lasted for 17 years.

Also, people should be aware that music publishing copyright law is a separate division of copyright law. It dates back to the sheet music era and is entirely different from printed matter copyright. With music publishing, the royalties are collected and disbursed by an independent entity called a "Music Publisher" who takes half the money collected as an administrative payment. The other half is divided among composers and performers producers and managers, typically. In addition, record companies, no matter how small, are required to pay a small fee is paid to the music publisher for every record they wish to manufacture, regardless of whether it is ultimately sold or distributed. These added fees are called "mechanical rights" and can constitute quite a bonanza for the music publisher and a burden for anyone contemplating issuing a record.

See Rian Malan's expose in Rolling Stone (later made into a documentary film) reprinted here:

The implication drawn from Malan's article is that performers like Pete Seeger and collectors and scholars like John and Alan Lomax, who brought folk music to millions and made comparatively little money from it, have been unfairly singled out for opprobrium, while big publishing companies who made millions were allowed to fly under the radar.

A useful summary:

See also wikipedia article on Tin Pan Alley, which states:
"When tunes were purchased from unknowns with no previous hits, the name of someone with the [music publishing] firm was often added as co-composer (in order to keep a higher percentage of royalties within the firm), or all rights to the song were purchased outright for a flat fee (including rights to put someone else's name on the sheet music as the composer)."

Tin Pan Alley songs, which originated as sheet music, also avoided blue notes, improvisation, and the complicated or syncopated rhythm changes that characterized authentic jazz and folk music, in favor of something that fit more easily into conventional musical notation, the wikipedia article states.