If Robert Johnson Died In 1938... Why Is His Music Still Covered By Copyright?
from the life-+-70 dept
Michael Scott points us to a fascinating post by Sage Ross, talking about a rather ridiculous copyright situation faced by his father, a professional musician. There are two worthwhile points to discuss in the post. The first concerns how many jazz and blues musicians view copyright law:
My dad is a professional musician; he plays blues and jazz and original piano music, and has made five records. For professional musicians outside of pop music (and often in in pop as well), copyright law is already simply a burden to the point that it is almost universal ignored. Gigging blues and jazz musicians have long used "fake books", unauthorized charts of the melodies, lyrics and chord structure of jazz standards. No one is worried about other musicians infringing on their copyrights, because jazz and blues (among other genres) are rooted in a culture of borrowing and adaptation. It's inimical to creativity to draw sharp lines between what can and can't be borrowed or adapted, and indeed in academic jazz programs one learns to improvise by practicing the great "licks" on classic recordings.That's a great description of how music works -- and how copyright often gets in the way of basic creativity in music and goes against the traditional means of creating new and wonderful music. The second point is explaining how Ross has realized that a Robert Johnson song his dad covered might still be covered by copyright, despite the fact that Johnson died in 1938, and the song itself was recorded in 1937. The situation helps demonstrate how screwed up our copyright laws are (yet again):
One classic he put on a 2004 album is "Love in Vain Blues", a Robert Johnson tune that was first recorded in 1937. Johnson died in 1938, and the original recording was published on vinyl in 1938 or 1939 (without a copyright notice) and not renewed after the then-standard 28-year copyright term had ended.Yup, but there's no problem at all with copyright, right?
But as the result of a series of utterly insane laws and court decisions, it turns out that the song may be under copyright through 2047. Today, issuing as sound recording is considered publication. But according to the 2000 decision in ABKCO v. LaVere, sound recordings published before 1978 don't count as publication. So despite the publication, re-publication, and widespread adapation of Johnson's "Love in Vain", it was never "published" before 1978 because there was no sheet music. And because it was created earlier but "published" first between 1978 and 1989, the crazy rules go into effect.