If Pachelbel Were Still Alive Today, Would He Be Suing YouTube?

from the just-curious dept

We’ve joked about bored reporters scouring YouTube for any popular video to be the basis of a news story, but this NY Times article about a bunch of random semi-anonymous guitarists (including one very good one who the reporter tracked down) recording rock versions of Pachelbel’s Canon (you know, “the wedding song”) has one other interesting point that isn’t mentioned in the article at all: imagine if Johann Pachelbel were still around and this song were under copyright? Instead of talking about the wonders of young guitarists across the world experimenting with new versions of the song and recording themselves doing so, we’d be hearing stories about copyright infringement and how these young musicians aren’t paying performance royalties. Then we’d hear about how this needs to be stopped “for the sake of the artists” who are getting ripped off. Instead, we get to hear (and see) new music in action.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “If Pachelbel Were Still Alive Today, Would He Be Suing YouTube?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

it depends. how long does something have to exist before it is in the “public domain” just about all of classical litrature is in teh public domain. and most classical music is. now, what about elvis songs? or chuck berry or what about the recenetly late maynard ferguson? is all of his work in the public domain now? or is it owned by his family, manager, producer, or recording studio…hell even the RIAA????

also, remember these ‘rockstars’ aren’t copying the song as pachelbel “recorded” it. and from my understanding, there are laws that allow parody and such (remeber weird al and colio?)

Anonymous Coward says:


from a couple posts above… i’ve seen musicians sue over the use of the same chord progession without the same melody… if there isn’t any change in harmonies (i.e. added 9, 11, 13 chords etc) and it’s just a different voicing (different inversions) or a variation on the rhythms i’d imagine they’d end up winning. this is, of course, absurd. i could take any modern song and, 99% guaranteed, i’d find that chord progression used in a baroque, classical or romantic era song.

Celes says:

Re: Re:

Absolutely. There are only so many notes audible to the human ear… heaven knows we’ve used them all by now!

“In truth, literature, in science and in art, there are, and can be, few, if any things, which in an abstract sense are strictly new and original throughout. Every book in literature, science, and art borrows, and must necessarily borrow, and use much which was well known and used before.” — Supreme Court Justice David Souter

Jon Healey says:

Umm, not in the U.S.

Uhh, Mike? I think you’ve got this one flat wrong. IANAL, but under U.S. copyright law, anybody can record any song he/she wants to and perform it publicly to his/her heart’s content. That’s because there’s a compulsory license to the song. The flip side is, there’s a royalty that has to be paid — it’s something like 8 cents per song recorded, and performers have to pay a percentage of revenue, I believe, to the applicable performance royalty organization (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC).

Of course, someone who copies funtwo’s recording of the song and redistributes it or uses it as a soundtrack for a soda commercial could be sued by funtwo. That’s because there’s no compulsory license to the recorded version of the song, just to the underlying composition.

Pseudonym says:

Not the right question

The question is not what would happen if Pachelbel were still alive. The question is: what would happen if Johann only died 69 years ago? Would his grandchildren, making a profit off their grandfather’s creativity while doing nothing at all themselves, creatively, be suing YouTube?

The answer is a clear “yes”. The question is not whether or not creative artists should be compensated for use of their works. The question is how many generations of non-creative non-artists should be compensated for their ancestors’ or ancestor-in-interest’s works.

Joshua says:

Re: Not the right question

I don’t even think the person who made it in the first place should get the copyright for very long (and certainly not for 70 years past the day they die like it is now). With the speed at which you can distribute and manufacture goods (such as books, posters, music, computer programs, video, etc.), I don’t see a reason for any copyright to last more than 10-20 years. And that’s just so that the artists can feel that they have a bit of a comfort zone in which to sell their work without hiding it.

I am not an artist but it seems to me to be a huge case of special pleading for anyone to say that because of their profession, they should be able to make money off of a single work more than once. A carpenter, dockworker, or sales clerk doesn’t get to be paid more than once for building a shelf, loading a crate, or making a sale. Why should an artist who makes reproducible art be able to?

I understand that art is difficult and time consuming, but so what? If it’s that difficult and that rare a skill then you will be able to charge alot for the sale of your work. Hell, artists could even go back to the patron system, Which is how it used to be for the arts and sciences and largely still is for the sciences. After all, what is working for a university or getting a government grant but a patron system?

If all you are after when creating art is money then you should get another job. If you want to create art then create art. Just don’t expect to be entitled to make money off of it.

Muse says:

Do you people listen to anything but ‘popular’ music?

Jazz and many other genres *thrive* on someone else replaying a unique variation on an old tune. You’re assuming Pachelbel would be as lawsuit-happy as Americans seem to be, who’s to say he wouldn’t be thrilled to hear his music performed on a new instrument, in a new way?

So, I guess Pachelbel would also be right steamed at the people who arrange his music for concert bands, and other uses too…since you can BET they’ve altered his music as much as anyone else.

I’m kind of sad to see something so rediculous on this site, it’s usually a great read.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Jazz and many other genres *thrive* on someone else replaying a unique variation on an old tune. You’re assuming Pachelbel would be as lawsuit-happy as Americans seem to be, who’s to say he wouldn’t be thrilled to hear his music performed on a new instrument, in a new way?

No, we’re in agreement. The point of the post is how silly it is for the RIAA to get upset about things like this — and they have. Plenty of music (not just jazz) is built on older music, which is why it’s silly that the recording industry gets so upset about it. That was the point of the post. We agree with you.

I’m kind of sad to see something so rediculous on this site, it’s usually a great read.

Why are you upset? We agree with you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not the right question

I agree. Copyright (while necessary, though not in its current form) is extended for an obscenely long time in the US. The UK is a bit better, though not by much.

Pachelbel’s Canon has been the basis of many already famous songs including “Hook” by Blues Traveler and “Basket Case” by Green Day. Many people have heard Nirvana’s rendition of “Where did you sleep last night” and enjoyed it (I like the original better, but they didn’t do a bad job on it). I’d hate to imagine a world where some of the great blues songs couldn’t be interpreted…..oh, wait.

Kyle says:

Wedding Music Notes

As an organist in the Episcopal Church, the most frequently request processional is “Trumpet Tune” by Jeramiah Clark (erroneously attributed to Henry Purcel). However, you all have valid comments and contributions. The Wagner piece is discouraged by some religions because in the context of the opera the wedding occurs between two animals. Whatever.

bassmanpdx says:

Fair use?

I would argue that performing a piece written by someone else is fair use. Otherwise, there would be no bar bands. The minimal compensation a performer receives at that level does no harm to the composer.

However, when an artist “samples” an existing work for his/her own album, and the resulting work is of interest primarily because of the qualities of the sampled work, and the artist makes substantial money from this derivative work, then I think the original composer deserves a piece of cake. I don’t want to rag on hip-hop and rap too much, because they are viable forms in their own right, but it does not take a lot of talent to lift whole chunks of previous hit records, put a new drum track under them, and intersperse them with “yeeeeaaahhh…..yeeeeaaahhh….come AWN, come AWN…” To me, that’s just a non-talent ripping off talent.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...