The same procedure as every year…

Jelly Roll Morton, ca. 1917 or 1918, unknown photographer, deemed in public domain

This is the last post on MusiCB3 – for this year. And every time before the end of the year I have the same procedure: I check which composers died 70 years ago (as any music written by a composer is at least protected for 70 years after their death); so this year I look back to 1941.

This might sound like a very macabre and inappropriate thing to do. After all, isn’t Christmas about rejoicing and being happy? Well, let me expand:

I’m preparing myself for 2012 and possible ‘copyright changes’. There are a lot of pitfalls of copyright for sheet music. However, instead of discussing these in an abstract manner, I would like to share my list of top-5 composers who died in 1941. As a disclaimer: it’s still the case that if one of their works was, say, published in or after 1986, this particular edition continues to stay in copyright, even though works published before 1986 by the same composer will be out of copyright after 31st December 2011.

Top-5 names, with given priority from our UL collection policy for C20 and C21 sheet music in square brackets:

Bridge, Frank (1879-1941) [high]
Kienzl, Wilhelm (1857-1941) [low]
Morton, Jelly Roll (1890-1941)
[low ; link to Oxford Music Online, subscription-based access]
Padrewski, Ignace Jan (1860-1941) [high]
Zilcher, Hermann (1881-1941) [low]

However, beware: there are a high number of further complications! My favourite example is Gershwin’s songs: whereas composer George died in 1937, his brother and lyricist Ira lived until 1983 (he was 86 at the time of his death). This means that the Gershwin brothers’ songs are still in copyright until at least 2053!

Also, I should mention that any unpublished music is – in theory – protected by copyright laws until 2039; so if we were to find a Handel or Mozart manuscript, this could not be published without the consent of the trustees/ancestors of those two gentlemen. Don’t ask me what happens in practice – I’m not a copyright and intellectual property lawyer.

Of course, equally, if you create a new edition of a published work of, say, one of the composers listed above (preferably putting enough effort in to call it a critical or scholarly edition), then this will be protected for 25 years from the year of publication. So, in a way, copyright on any composer ‘never’ truly ends, as specific editions can, are and will be protected. This is the difference between intellectual copyright (i.e. protecting, say, your creative and intellectual work) versus the commercial copyright (i.e. protecting a publisher’s commercial interests). Clear as mud?

To end this post and year, and to conclude on a lighter note: for another way of celebrating the end of yet another year, watch the following slapstick humour of Dinner for One. A lot of TV channels in Germany show this on New Year’s eve. To Mr. Montgomery!


About Clemens Gresser

Between August 2010 and September 2021 I worked as a librarian at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK); the last six years of that time I was at the Faculty of Divinity Library. Between August 2010 and November 2013 I was the Deputy Head of Music at Cambridge University Library and at the Pendlebury Library of Music. Between December 2013 and September 2015 I was the Librarian at the Marshall Library of Economics. Since September 2021 I have been the Heythrop Librarian at the London Jesuit Centre.
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2 Responses to The same procedure as every year…

  1. Pingback: Composer anniversaries for 2012 | MusiCB3 Blog

  2. Pingback: A slightly different procedure to last year | MusiCB3 Blog

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