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Copyright on tunes from Europe and other places

HarryRHarryR ✭✭
in Repertoire Posts: 17
My band is play at a restaurant that was recently visited by the ASCAP / BMI police and the owners have agreed to not allow groups to perform any copyrighted material. I am wondering how tunes from the European songbook apply to U S copyright laws as well as the Musette waltzes that many of us like to play.


  • DragonPLDragonPL Maryland✭✭ Dupont MD 50-XL (Favino), Castelluccia Tears, Gitane DG-250M and DG-250
    Posts: 125
    Tunes maybe performed as long as they are not recorded for an album to be sold for profit. If this was the case they'd be no endless cover bands playing latest hits in thousands of bars on every weekend....
  • JasonSJasonS New
    Posts: 8
    Strange that the restaurant won't just pay for licensing... it is pretty cheap. Don't they play music over the speakers when bands aren't playing?
  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    edited November 2014 Posts: 288
    DragonPL: PROs (performing rights organizations) deal with public presentation/use of music, as distinct from recordings, and they do indeed insist on being paid by venues for the right to present music, whether live or recorded. If a bar is hosting a cover band, then they have either paid a PRO or they haven't been targeted by an agent yet.

    HarryR: There are three PROs that you'll run into in the US--ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC--and each has its own list of clients. Venues are responsible for maintaining licensing for performances, and a business that wants to have music must generally deal with all three, unless they want to try to wrestle with SESAC over Bob Dylan (that PRO's big dog) and Neil Diamond tunes. PRO agents can be gnarly and hard to bargain with--they have fee schedules based on venue size and number of days music is presented, and they can be less than reasonable about adjusting their notions of what a license is worth. And they are famously litigious and have a reputation for never losing in court. I'm not about to open the PRO-is-the-mafia can of worms, but I can guarantee that there are restaurants and bars that have decided that multiple PRO licenses do not make economic sense, and they either stop hosting music or insist on PD or (more usually) an originals-only format.

    So if the venue is willing to put up with the inevitable harrassment of PRO route salesmen (who have been known to claim control over repertory they do not in fact represent), you can assemble and vet a playlist consisting entirely of PD or unrepresented tunes. All three US PROs maintain on-line databases of their clients' tunes--but a rule of thumb is that any composition dating from before 1923 is PD. (There can be exceptions, but that's pretty arcane stuff*.) So when one of the venues we play experienced a PRO tussle (SESAC**), I vetted our playlist and was happy to note that, for example, "Whispering" (1920) is well into PD territory. But most of the repertory a swing combo is going to be interested in is going to still be owned and controlled by somebody.

    * See, for example these links:

    ** The owner finally got them to back off by promising to eliminate all SESAC material from any set list--and we have visiting artists sign a form affirming that they will not play any SESAC material. Dylan's kids will go hungry, I guess.
  • DragonPLDragonPL Maryland✭✭ Dupont MD 50-XL (Favino), Castelluccia Tears, Gitane DG-250M and DG-250
    edited November 2014 Posts: 125
    LOL....PRO must have a field day with "Happy Birthday" than which is copyrighted till 2030....
  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 288
    "Happy Birthday" is the subject of the linked articles--and it would seem possible that only the words are protected, though Warner/Chappell has the money and muscle to drag out any attempt to wrest any part of it from them until 2030--or the next time Congress decides to give Mickey another lease on profitable life.
  • HarryRHarryR ✭✭
    Posts: 17
    Thanks all, I know this is common practice with these PROs. I have talked to several venue owners who have dealt with these people and their heavy handed threats and such. The particular restaurant in question has required use to play all originals and fortunately we can, but my question was how are the European tunes covered under our CR rules. I can safely say I have NO desire to take money out of any ones pocket, but I do question : If I play the "Valse a Bamboula" or the" Minch Waltz" who is getting the money?
    Russell Letson
  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 288
    It's going to depend on whether the composers have signed on with a US PRO. As far as I can tell, their licensing authority is territorial--though I suppose there may be reciprocal agreements with, for example, SACEM (whose site mentions that possibility). I'd check the PRO's on-line databases to see exactly who/what each represents.

    [Pause while I actually do that.]

    I just put "Valse a Bamboula" and "Minch Waltz" into all three databases and got zero hits. But "Ferret Matlo" gets an ASCAP hit as affiliated with SACEM, but nothing about whether there's any ASCAP business connection. I suppose one ought to check exactly whether and how our PROs represent foreign rights-holders who have PROs on their side of the Pond.
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