Jazz Pioneer 'Jelly Roll' Morton's Music Finally Free For Re-use In Europe -- A Hundred Years Too Late

from the what's-the-point? dept

A recent Techdirt post reminded us that thanks to its crazy copyright laws, the US won't be seeing anything new in the public domain for many years. But even in those "fortunate" countries that get to use cultural works a mere 70 years after the creator's death, the situation is still pretty absurd.

For example, The 1709 Blog notes that one notable pianist and composer entering the public domain in Europe is "Jelly Roll" Morton:

Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (‘Jelly Roll Morton’) was famous both for his musical talents and for his rather overconfident nature. His self-promotion as the 'inventor of jazz' has been disparaged by many a musician and critic, yet his considerable accomplishments speak for themselves.
Now, whether or not you accept his claims to be the "inventor" of jazz, there's no denying he was a real pioneer in this new art-form. So it's ridiculous that only now, nearly a century after he made those key contributions, are other musicians allowed legally to take his works and build on them in any way they like.

Fortunately, no one paid much attention to copyright in the early years of jazz, where tunes and chord sequences were routinely shared among musicians for others to explore and extend and then pass on in the same way. Indeed, we wouldn't have the amazing riches of the last hundred years of jazz had they not done so. The recent liberation of 'Jelly Roll' Morton's music from copyright, so long after it was used in precisely the ways that the public domain is supposed to encourage, emphasises the huge gulf between what the law says and what art needs.

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    Violated (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 1:22am

    The Trash

    Had Jelly Roll Morton not died in 1941 at the age of 55 then it would have been nice to now thank him. We can see that life plus 70 years applies to this one.

    What I find most humorous is that to get the music of any artist into the public domain, as quickly as is possible, then you need to shoot them dead! I can even bizarrely thank Mark Chapman for shooting dead John Lennon on December 8, 1980 when I *may* just live long enough to see that 2050 public domain release. Then even that is only if the blissful eternal term of copyright does not get extended again before 2050.

    Anyway peeps keep in mind that copyright law is indeed CrAzY and even Public Domain works in Europe can be copyrighted in the USA resulting in the extremely harsh anti-piracy measures and punishment.

    The truth is that such public domain media is in law treated like trash next to copyright. It simply the expired branch of a long list of laws, amendments and extensions resulting in widespread confusion. For example back when it was compulsory to state Copyright in released media then they added on a law to state that owners can then claim copyright protection after the release. So while normally you can tell public domain based on the date and the box but they screwed that up when you also need to check for a post release copyright claim. Then don't get me started on different countries different laws.

     

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      identicon
      Rekrul, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 6:55am

      Re: The Trash

      What I find most humorous is that to get the music of any artist into the public domain, as quickly as is possible, then you need to shoot them dead! I can even bizarrely thank Mark Chapman for shooting dead John Lennon on December 8, 1980 when I *may* just live long enough to see that 2050 public domain release.

      You're dreaming if you think the Beatles music will ever be allowed to pass into the public domain.

      I fully expect that the next big push from the entertainment companies will be to make copyrights permanent. They'll argue that since copyrights can now last up to almost 200 years, nobody will care if they never expire. They'll probably have some study that appears to show how it would benefit the economy to allow Disney to keep its copyrights forever. And the politicians will pass it...

       

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    Violated (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 1:31am

    Extra

    Oh I forgot to mention that if the copyright term does get extended again retrospectively then this music by Jelly Roll Morton can get sucked back under copyright! Stolen from the public domain is a common theme of copyright in many regards.

    Enjoy this Jazz while you can, in any way you want, when it may not last long.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 1:55am

    Jazz

    Thanks for this. As a UK jazz musician I find copyright a bit of a minefield. What is the copyrightable material? The chord sequence? The melody? The improv in-between? There are so many blurry lines. Even our PRS seem frankly confused by it.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 2:48am

    PRS

    after 20 years with PRS i left last Autumn mainly because of their boasting/crowing about the copyright extension they just got through.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 3:39am

    I expect Disney to lobby for another copyright extension, retroactive, of approximately a thousand years. Oh wait... It's Jazz!

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 4:14am

      Re:

      Maybe not, but it wouldn't surprise if another organisation popped up to claw this out of the public domain.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 4:35am

    I have a question.

    From what I understand, copyright lasts the author's life + 70 years (or something like that) in some countries. What is the rationale for copyright beyond the original author's death?

     

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      frosty840, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 5:01am

      Re:

      To incentivise the deceased to continue to produce new works, obviously.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 5:26am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Jan 10th, 2012 @ 4:35am

      Zombie Michael Jackson's Thriller reprise.

       

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      Rikuo (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 5:59am

      Re:

      There isn't one. Not a single rationale that makes any sense when you consider copyright's original purpose was to give incentives to artists to create art.
      It does make sense when you consider that non-artist people can take control of the copyrights and continue to milk them for all they're worth after the author's death.
      Tolkien wrote the Hobbit by reusing the legend of Beowulf and other legends. I want to reuse the Hobbit to write my own story and sell it, just like Tolkien did, but I have to wait decades still, even though he died in the 1970's.

       

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      Rekrul, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 6:51am

      Re:

      What is the rationale for copyright beyond the original author's death?

      It's what the large media corporations wanted.

      Seriously, that's why such ridiculous copyright terms exist. The corporations, like Disney, were upset that some of the things they held the copyrights to were about to pass into the public domain, so they went to the government and basically said that it would be a crime against humanity to allow such priceless works to become public domain. The politicians, encouraged by large campaign contributions, swallowed this BS argument hook, line and sicker, and happily extended copyright.

       

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 7:27am

      Re:

      I would honestly, for the life of me, would want to say that I don't agree with the other people who have responded to you and that they are wrong. That there is a rational explanation, but I can't.

      The reason that copyrights last for life+70 years for an artist is because corporations wanted a 95+ year copyright but couldn't do it without making it look like they were doing it "for the artists". So they made up some bogus reason for why life+70 years made sense under copyright.

      However, we know from history and the present that such a term is beyond its merit. The fact that an author's grandchildren hold a copyright for something they did not create is a complete farce. Tolkien's estate has turned into nothing but a copyright troll. Sure the movies they licensed were awesome, but how awesome would have been for those movies to have been made 30 years ago with a remake in the last decade? So many people could be profiting off an expanded public domain right now, but we are handicapped by the greedy estates and corporations that want perpetual control over copyright.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 7:47am

      Re:

      In many cases, the content creator is not the same as the rights holder. Artists frequently sign a contract that gives a production company the rights to the music/movie/television program, etc...

       

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    Atkray (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 7:36am

    So does this mean that any site in Europe that posts any of his material is a rogue site and needs to be blocked/seized/destroyed?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 7:55am

    I am torn on copyright length - there are pros and cons to decreasing the duration of copyright protection. On the one hand, providing the public with freely available cultural material is important. On the other hand there are restoration projects that would never have occured had copyright protections not been extended beyond the original 27 years - restorations of films from the golden age of cinema for example.

     

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      DH's Love Child (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 8:45am

      Re:

      "On the other hand there are restoration projects that would never have occured had copyright protections not been extended beyond the original 27 years - restorations of films from the golden age of cinema for example."

      And all of those Dr Who episodes.. oops!

      There is a treasure trove of material from the silent film era that are currently locked in vaults and disintegrating because the studios don't feel they are worth the money to restore. This is what these copyright extensions have done.

       

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 8:45am

      Re:

      I would think that restoration projects would have been far more successful if copyrights had been consistently at 28 years. Film would have been far more likely to survive a 20 year stay in a vault versus a 80 year stay in a vault. Plus, the desire to preserve a film would have been higher at the time as the people who enjoyed it when it was released would have still been alive and would want to preserve it.

      With a life+70 or a 95+ year copyright term, the people who enjoyed a work at release would have been long dead or beyond means to do any preservation effort when it finally went into the public domain.

      People care more for the work released in their own lifetime and rarely have the time or means necessary for the preservation of work from years prior to their life, except in rare cases of extremely popular work.

       

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        E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 8:51am

        Re: Re:

        I should also add to this after reading DHLC's comment, that the owners of the copyright actually have less of an incentive to preserve a work that is under a 95+ year copyright term as they will have moved on to additional work tht provides a higher ROI than the preservation of historical works.

        Why spend $1million to preserve a film from the 1940s when the return on that effort might only net you half that or in a lucky situation break even? What is the point?

        The work is often far more valuable culturally than it is monetarily and if the only motivation for restoration/preservation efforts is monetarily, then fewer works will benefit. Yet, culturally, works tend to lose value over time and with increased copyright terms, that culteral value is all but gone for the majority of works when they finally enter the public domain, if they ever do.

         

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 6:29pm

      Re:

      >On the other hand there are restoration projects that would never have occured had copyright protections not been extended beyond the original 27 years - restorations of films from the golden age of cinema for example.

      In addition to what's already commented, I'm not seeing seeing the cons here. Why would restoration make up for the huge amount of time that a film has spent rotting away in some vault? Would it not be better to prevent the rotting away in the first place which necessitates the restoration?

       

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    peopleagainstheft (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 8:47am

    This is the problem when copyright gets reduced to soundbites. Ask any jazz musician whether they can play the work of Jelly Roll Morton - and of course the answer is "of course". Performance rights are generally subject to blanket licenses in the US and virtually every performance hall and jukebox has an ASCAP & BMI license; recording licenses are similarly easily available as "mechanicals" - also by compulsory license. The only thing NOT easily available in music would be the actual recording - but of course, those are easy to find for low rates, too (no incremental cost if you have Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, or pay to own on itunes, amazon). So exactly HOW is the culture being harmed? Why shouldn't the heirs of the founder of jazz receive their royalties when we enjoy his masterful work?

     

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      Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 8:54am

      Re:

      Why shouldn't the heirs of the founder of jazz receive their royalties when we enjoy his masterful work?

      A better question is: why should they?

      What exactly do his heirs add to his masterful work that they should be compensated for?

       

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 9:03am

      Re:

      I would like to ask how providing the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of an artist copyright control over a work they had no hand in creating fits the definition of this Constitutional clause:

      To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 9:24am

      Re:

      >>Why shouldn't the heirs of the founder of jazz receive their royalties when we enjoy his masterful work?

      If Jelly Roll wanted his heirs to receive the fruits of his labors, he should have put his money in a retirement account like the rest of us have to.

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 11:05am

      Re:

      "Why shouldn't the heirs of the founder of jazz receive their royalties when we enjoy his masterful work?"

      Because continuing the monopoly to the heirs does nothing toward the actual intent and purpose of copyright, but does quite a lot to violate the agreement that copyright is supposed to be (a short-term temporary monopoly in exchange for pubic ownership of the works when the monopoly passes).

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 3:37pm

      Re:

      >Why shouldn't the heirs of the founder of jazz receive their royalties when we enjoy his masterful work?

      By "enjoy his masterful work", do you also include paying the local PRS for having a radio in a room that is never turned on but might be heard by people?

      Also, please name another industry where heirs receive royalties based on what their ancestors did.

       

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    Violated (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 11:35am

    Re: Re: The Trash

    It sure is a dream to see any copyright covered media created in my lifetime to become public domain within my lifetime. Obviously the Beatles are a prime example of media they would never want the copyright term to expire on.

    What some people are overlooking here is that Public Domain means you don't have to pay money to anyone. Play how and where you like, copy, sell and most importantly to sample and remix to create new songs. A global resource of ideas that won't get your butt sued for using them.

    Also most new media does have a short market life. This is why 99% of sales happen during the first few years. So exactly what sense does it make to wait life plus 70 years for the other 1%?

    It has also been pointed out that copyright is a very complex beast and when many people are involved in a production it becomes less clear as to who owns what. It is clearly a lot more difficult now that copyright is automatic without need to file ownership forms. Payment for public performances is a separate but related aspect.

     

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