Copyright Information for Dulcimer Players
There are several different areas of copyright law that apply to the music world in general and dulcimer players in particular. These various areas should not be confused or mixed up with each other -- each has its own parameters and requirements:
1. Creating (and printing and distributing) dulcimer arrangements of copyrighted material
2. Performing a copyrighted song in a public venue
3. Recording a copyrighted song on a CD or digital download and/or posting to Youtube
--create an arrangement of a copyrighted song for your own personal use or amusement, and which will NOT be shared in print form. No permission is needed.
--create arrangements of public domain songs, and freely print and distribute these at festivals.
--create an arrangement of a copyrighted song, with the intention of teaching it in a dulcimer festival without first getting permission in writing and paying a fee.
--distribute this arrangement in a dulcimer festival workshop as a printed handout.
--distribute this arrangement via email or by ANY electronic or digital means to attendees at a festival workshop.
--publish this arrangement in a book or as “sheet music” for sale without first getting permission in writing and paying a fee.
--perform copyrighted songs (“cover” songs) in a public venue (restaurant, hotel, club, festival, etc.) only IF the venue has paid the appropriate licensing fees to one (or more) of the three Performing Rights Organizations -- BMI, ASCAP, SESAC.
--perform songs in the public domain and any of your own originals in any public venue, whether the venue is licensed or not.
--perform a copyrighted song in a public venue (restaurant, hotel, club, church, dulcimer festival, etc.) that has NOT paid appropriate licensing fees -- the venue can be fined.
--record songs in the public domain and any of your own originals.
--record your arrangement of a copyrighted song without first securing a mechanical license and paying a fee.
PERMISSIONS & LICENSING (and fees)
Do a search to determine who is the current copyright holder of the piece you want to arrange. You can generally locate this information on the bottom of the first page of the music. Hal Leonard Corporation is the exclusive print distributor for the majority of all print titles in the world. The rest are owned by a few smaller publishing houses, and also by the composer who has self-published.
Creating a dulcimer arrangement of a copyrighted piece is considered a “derivative work” -- you have “derived” your arrangement from the original piece.
If you intend to distribute your arrangement at a dulcimer festival, either as a printed handout or via digital or electronic means (email, Dropbox, etc.) you must get written permission and pay any fees.
Remember -- you do NOT need any kind of permission to arrange, perform, or record any public domain song or your own originals.
This website lists public domain songs -- it is reliable and easy to use: www.pdinfo.com
Hal Leonard’s website has a special copyright section:
www.Halleonard.com -- click on “Copyright” tab, and also read the FAQs posted there.
If you intend to publish your arrangement in a book you will likely be working with Hal Leonard, who will also collect a fee for themselves and the copyright holder. This fee is based on how many books you intend to print and what its retail sale price will be. They will also give you specific information that must be printed on the bottom of the first page of your arrangement.
If you have selected a piece that is not controlled by Hal Leonard, the permission and fees must be negotiated with the entity that directly controls the copyright.
If you are performing a copyrighted song in a venue which has paid the necessary licensing fees listed above, you have nothing more to worry about.
But if your venue does NOT have the necessary license, you can personally secure a one-time song-specific license (for a fee) from the same agencies listed above -- BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC.
Recording / Synchronization Licenses
If you plan to record your arrangement of a copyrighted piece and produce a CD that contains this arrangement, you must get a mechanical license from Harry Fox Agency. Their fee is based on the number of copyrighted songs on your CD and the number of copies you plan to produce.
If you plan to post your arrangement of a copyrighted song on YouTube, you must acquire a synchronization license from BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC.
In general, any time you are working with any song that is under copyright, you are working with property that belongs to someone else, and you must be granted permission in writing, and pay a fee for that privilege.
It is illegal to use another person’s song without permission as described in the scenarios presented above. NONE of these situations constitutes “fair use,” nor does the “non-profit” status have any bearing on your use of an arrangement of copyrighted material.
Ask yourself this question: Why would I want to avoid compensating the composer for a piece of music that I enjoy enough to want to arrange and share with others?
What exactly constitutes “fair use?” (sometimes referred to as “intended use”)
Section 107 of the Copyright Act requires that you apply the following four guidelines to your use of a copyrighted work:
“In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include--
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;”
As a dulcimer arranger and/or dulcimer workshop leader, it is NOT fair use for you to teach and distribute copies of your arrangement of a copyrighted piece in a workshop unless you have been granted permission in writing from the copyright holder. (Remember that you have created a "derivative work" from someone else's work, and every instance of that requires permission. See #2 below.) Note that this applies in any setting, including a small non-profit festival.
“(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;”
If you’ve written a dulcimer arrangement of a copyrighted work, you’ve created a “derivative work” -- you’ve “derived” a completely new work from a copyrighted song. This requires permission if you have any intention of sharing it at a dulcimer festival.
“(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;”
This applies if you want to make (and distribute) a photocopy of a short segment of the original copyrighted work to demonstrate or illustrate a point related to your workshop topic -- you may do so as long as it is less than 10% of the entire work. You must cite and include the copyright information on the bottom of the page. You may NOT copy an entire piece, even if it is intended for “educational purposes” without getting written permission.
“(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”
A dulcimer player who has your unpermitted and illegal arrangement of another person’s copyrighted work would have no need to purchase the original, thus depriving the composer of potential income that would have been generated by a direct purchase of the original from the composer/publisher. Similarly, the original composer may have the desire (and ability) to create his own dulcimer arrangement of his own composition -- he created the song, he owns the song, and therefore has 100% control over what happens to it after he publishes it. He may be very happy to have you share his music in this unique way, but he must first grant written permission (either directly or through his publisher), and is also entitled to receive a customary fee.
And here’s a very important caveat: The original composer (or copyright holder) now owns your arrangement, and the copyright stamp at the bottom of the first page must reflect that.
Here’s an actual example that I was required to print in one of my books that included my dulcimer arrangement of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” a song composed by Richard Rodgers, initially published by Williamson Music, and then taken over by Hal Leonard Corporation. Rodgers died many years ago, but his publishing company still holds -- and protects -- the original copyright.
©1943 by Williamson Music, a Division of Rodgers & Hammerstein: an Imagem Company
This arrangement ©2015 by Williamson Music, a division of Rodgers & Hammerstein: an Imagem Company
International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation.
Note that my name DOES NOT APPEAR as the owner of the 2015 copyright, even though I wrote this arrangement in 2015! I do NOT own my own arrangement -- it belongs to the copyright holder. (I CAN give myself credit for it up near the title -- "Arranged for Mountain Dulcimer by Carol Walker" -- but I do not OWN it, nor can I put my own copyright stamp on it.)
I was granted written permission by Hal Leonard to arrange and publish this piece in my book, for which I paid my fee (based on the number of copies I was printing and the retail price), but now I cannot teach this arrangement in a workshop without getting permission from Hal Leonard again, and paying another fee -- each and every time I might want to teach this piece.
So, I obviously have never taught this arrangement in a workshop, nor have I ever shared the arrangement, other than as a part of the book which is available for purchase. But I sleep well at night, knowing that I’ve done the Right Thing, and that the copyright police will not be knocking on my door.
The term “fair use” is tossed around very casually as a catch-all cover-up for outright copyright infringement. I believe in many cases dulcimer players and arrangers are completely unfamiliar with the technical legalities of copyright law, but may have gleaned just enough information from similarly misguided fellow players and internet postings to feel justified in considering their unpermitted arrangement of a copyrighted song as “fair use,” simply because they’re teaching it or performing it for “educational purposes,” in a “non-profit” dulcimer festival.
Wrong. It’s stealing, and it’s illegal. Period.