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What is the legal basis for the sale of transcriptions?

Timo-Germany

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Dear Community,

some of you may have noticed that I make transcriptions of jazz, rock and pop songs.

Do you know what the legal situation is regarding the sale of such transcriptions? Is it allowed to sell them officially or to make them available for free to Patreon members?

Thank you for your help!
 

Seb77

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Interesting question, you mean, regarding copyright? Maybe you can find out how it has been handled before. The Charlie Parker collection might be one of the most widespread ones. Recently, there has been a Philly Joe Jones transcription book.
 

Matched Gripper

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Dear Community,

some of you may have noticed that I make transcriptions of jazz, rock and pop songs.

Do you know what the legal situation is regarding the sale of such transcriptions? Is it allowed to sell them officially or to make them available for free to Patreon members?

Thank you for your help!
Not exactly on point, but, may be helpful.


 

bpaluzzi

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When you hear "publishing" in the sense of music, the origins are literally from the publishing of sheet music. That's what the songwriter's credit / revenue is for.

Selling transcriptions isn't a grey area -- it's absolutely illegal.

Even writing transcriptions + not selling them isn't legal. That's why the Real Book has been an "underground" thing for so long.
 

Matched Gripper

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When you hear "publishing" in the sense of music, the origins are literally from the publishing of sheet music. That's what the songwriter's credit / revenue is for.

Selling transcriptions isn't a grey area -- it's absolutely illegal.

Even writing transcriptions + not selling them isn't legal. That's why the Real Book has been an "underground" thing for so long.
Not sure that applies to the drum part.
 

multijd

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When you hear "publishing" in the sense of music, the origins are literally from the publishing of sheet music. That's what the songwriter's credit / revenue is for.

Selling transcriptions isn't a grey area -- it's absolutely illegal.

Even writing transcriptions + not selling them isn't legal. That's why the Real Book has been an "underground" thing for so long.
Transcribing a song and selling is illegal because someone possesses copyright on that song and that gives them various rights including publishing. Copywriting a drum part is not commonly done nor assumed. I’ve never heard of someone filing a claim on a drum part. Imagine being restricted from playing the beat to any Rolling Stones tune (the basic vocabulary of Rock) or any of Max Roach , Philly Joe Jones or Elvin Jones’ grooves and comping! How about copyright on the Cha Cha, Mambo or Samba. We would run out of things to play pretty quickly. Now that is different than the recording of a drum part which can be sampled and is protected under copyright as part of the original recording.
 

bpaluzzi

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Not sure that applies to the drum part.
Transcribing a song and selling is illegal because someone possesses copyright on that song and that gives them various rights including publishing. Copywriting a drum part is not commonly done nor assumed. I’ve never heard of someone filing a claim on a drum part. Imagine being restricted from playing the beat to any Rolling Stones tune (the basic vocabulary of Rock) or any of Max Roach , Philly Joe Jones or Elvin Jones’ grooves and comping! How about copyright on the Cha Cha, Mambo or Samba. We would run out of things to play pretty quickly. Now that is different than the recording of a drum part which can be sampled and is protected under copyright as part of the original recording.

While traditionally drum parts are not part of copyright/publishing, you still can't legally write a transcription of someone's specific performance without permission. Note that's different from a generic drum beat -- this is specifically concerning a note-for-note transcription of a specific song.

Similarly guitar parts, basslines, even solos are not typically considered part of the song copyright, but all of those are protected from transcription as well.

Keep in mind that everything is in flux right now -- the horrible "Blurred Lines" decision has thrown out decades of precedent, and it's a free-for-all right now.
 

Matched Gripper

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While traditionally drum parts are not part of copyright/publishing, you still can't legally write a transcription of someone's specific performance without permission. Note that's different from a generic drum beat -- this is specifically concerning a note-for-note transcription of a specific song.

Similarly guitar parts, basslines, even solos are not typically considered part of the song copyright, but all of those are protected from transcription as well.

Keep in mind that everything is in flux right now -- the horrible "Blurred Lines" decision has thrown out decades of precedent, and it's a free-for-all right now.
Don’t know if you read this from the link I posted above. It doesn’t directly answer the question about selling transcriptions of drum parts, but, it distinguishes drum parts from lyrics, melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.:

“As a starting point: any musical performance that is recorded in any form already has automatic copyright. This happens in the recording of that performance. In other words, nobody could sample or otherwise exploit your recorded performance without your consent.

“So the real question we need to ask: are drumbeats considered songwriting? If they are, then they form part of the musical composition and would be protected under the law just like a chord progression, melody or lyric.

“The short answer:​

“unfortunately, no. Drumbeats and drum patterns are not typically considered songwriting – it’s not typical to copyright a drumbeat. The law makes clear that lyrics, melody, harmony, and rhythm can be copyrighted. Most often, lyrics and melody are afforded protection under the law before the other two. This is arguable because the latter two are considered “accompaniment,” while the first two form the backbone of the composition, and remain consistent regardless of who is performing the composition.

“This is actually a good thing in many ways. If every drumbeat was considered songwriting, the Bonham ‘Levee’ beat, the Bo Diddly groove, the ‘We Will Rock You’ stomp, even the standard four-on-the-floor pattern would all exist in only one song, and if you emulated any of them in a new song, you could be sued for plagiarism.

“The Good Part​

“So really, the lack of protection affords us all the ability to do more in the studio. We can do this without the fear of being sued. Singers and guitar players, for example, do not have such a luxury.

“However, if you lifted the ‘We Will Rock You’ beat, along with similar handclaps and stomps, and added a vocal melody or phrasing similar to Freddie’s, that as a whole would likely be considered plagiarism. So it seems that a drumbeat and something else needs to be added before the piece will be considered songwriting. . . .”
 

bpaluzzi

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Don’t know if you read this from the link I posted above. It doesn’t directly answer the question about selling transcriptions of drum parts, but, it distinguishes drum parts from lyrics, melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.:

“As a starting point: any musical performance that is recorded in any form already has automatic copyright. This happens in the recording of that performance. In other words, nobody could sample or otherwise exploit your recorded performance without your consent.

“So the real question we need to ask: are drumbeats considered songwriting? If they are, then they form part of the musical composition and would be protected under the law just like a chord progression, melody or lyric.

“The short answer:​

“unfortunately, no. Drumbeats and drum patterns are not typically considered songwriting – it’s not typical to copyright a drumbeat. The law makes clear that lyrics, melody, harmony, and rhythm can be copyrighted. Most often, lyrics and melody are afforded protection under the law before the other two. This is arguable because the latter two are considered “accompaniment,” while the first two form the backbone of the composition, and remain consistent regardless of who is performing the composition.

“This is actually a good thing in many ways. If every drumbeat was considered songwriting, the Bonham ‘Levee’ beat, the Bo Diddly groove, the ‘We Will Rock You’ stomp, even the standard four-on-the-floor pattern would all exist in only one song, and if you emulated any of them in a new song, you could be sued for plagiarism.

“The Good Part​

“So really, the lack of protection affords us all the ability to do more in the studio. We can do this without the fear of being sued. Singers and guitar players, for example, do not have such a luxury.

“However, if you lifted the ‘We Will Rock You’ beat, along with similar handclaps and stomps, and added a vocal melody or phrasing similar to Freddie’s, that as a whole would likely be considered plagiarism. So it seems that a drumbeat and something else needs to be added before the piece will be considered songwriting. . . .”

Which is what I said as well. Transcriptions of a specific performance are different though. It's classified as a derivative work, which is treated differently.
 

bpaluzzi

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Oh man, I guess I'd better burn all my handwritten charts and give up this life of crime.
To be clear -- this isn't something that I think any of us have to worry about. Even if you're occasionally selling those services, you're very unlikely to face any kind of enforcement issue (unless you're doing this at a large scale).

My responses were strictly about the technical legality of it (with a big caveat that IANAL, and you shouldn't believe anything people say on the internet) :)
 

Pat A Flafla

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To be clear -- this isn't something that I think any of us have to worry about. Even if you're occasionally selling those services, you're very unlikely to face any kind of enforcement issue (unless you're doing this at a large scale).

My responses were strictly about the technical legality of it (with a big caveat that IANAL, and you shouldn't believe anything people say on the internet) :)
Yeah, as someone who does marching band arrangements, I can tell you that securing the rights to do all that stuff on the level is incredibly expensive (between $500-$1k PER SELECTION), but as I've mentioned elsewhere high school bands are totally made of money. (I'll be like, "Are you sure you want to do this medley? It'll cost two grand just for the one tune, without my fee." And they're all, "Whatevs.") The amount of time and dough they spend on maybe 8 minutes of music every fall is out of this world. In that amount of time I could probably learn a hundred difficult songs, and with what it costs to put a show on the field you could easily buy a decent car.
 

multijd

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While traditionally drum parts are not part of copyright/publishing, you still can't legally write a transcription of someone's specific performance without permission. Note that's different from a generic drum beat -- this is specifically concerning a note-for-note transcription of a specific song.

Similarly guitar parts, basslines, even solos are not typically considered part of the song copyright, but all of those are protected from transcription as well.

Keep in mind that everything is in flux right now -- the horrible "Blurred Lines" decision has thrown out decades of precedent, and it's a free-for-all right now.
I’m not convinced. There are books of transcriptions (Bonham, Gadd, Coltrane, Bird, etc) by major publishing companies. I assume that their legal departments have flushed this out. Or maybe they paid. I’d like to see some proof either way.
 

bpaluzzi

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I’m not convinced. There are books of transcriptions (Bonham, Gadd, Coltrane, Bird, etc) by major publishing companies. I assume that their legal departments have flushed this out. Or maybe they paid. I’d like to see some proof either way.
Those are legally published books, with rights paid. This isn't that hard to understand.
 

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First - you can legally transcribe something for personal use completely legally. The issue over "right to copy" is so much about the actual copying - but the distributing, sharing, displaying, etc. those copies in any way.

As for publishing transcriptions - yes, at least until the "Blurred Lines" case, the argument could be made that a transcription of a drum part doesn't have much to do (if anything) with the original song. Unless...

... you slap a title on it identifying as such. So while one might get away with selling a book of transcribed drum parts labeled simply #1, #2, #3... Your might even get away with pseudo titles, that hint at the real title. But we might not either.
But selling them with actual titles on them (or identifying them as such) - yes, I'm pretty sure that would be an infringement.
 

dcrigger

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Those are legally published books, with rights paid. This isn't that hard to understand.
I agree - with not only the song publishing paid. But also a fee for using the drummer's name and image. All of which are totally negotiable (no fix fees) and require permission (the stakeholders don't have to allow it).
 

Matched Gripper

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To be clear -- this isn't something that I think any of us have to worry about. Even if you're occasionally selling those services, you're very unlikely to face any kind of enforcement issue (unless you're doing this at a large scale).

My responses were strictly about the technical legality of it (with a big caveat that IANAL, and you shouldn't believe anything people say on the internet) :)
First - you can legally transcribe something for personal use completely legally. The issue over "right to copy" is so much about the actual copying - but the distributing, sharing, displaying, etc. those copies in any way.

As for publishing transcriptions - yes, at least until the "Blurred Lines" case, the argument could be made that a transcription of a drum part doesn't have much to do (if anything) with the original song. Unless...

... you slap a title on it identifying as such. So while one might get away with selling a book of transcribed drum parts labeled simply #1, #2, #3... Your might even get away with pseudo titles, that hint at the real title. But we might not either.
But selling them with actual titles on them (or identifying them as such) - yes, I'm pretty sure that would be an infringement.
I had no idea. You learn something new every day.
If you watched the video I posted above, near the end, the English fellow says that he thinks selling transcriptions of drum parts is a violation of other’s copyrights, but that, when he transcribes drum parts for a fee, the fee is for his labor, not the drum part. A distinction without a difference perhaps.
 

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when he transcribes drum parts for a fee, the fee is for his labor, not the drum part. A distinction without a difference perhaps.
You can't sample someone's record, then play a new bass part over the top, add a bit of percussion then 'charge for your labour'. It's copyright infringement or it isn't.
 

Matched Gripper

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You can't sample someone's record, then play a new bass part over the top, add a bit of percussion then 'charge for your labour'. It's copyright infringement or it isn't.
My understanding of sampling is that it is using a part of an actual copyrighted recording in another rcording. I wouldn’t think that writing out musical notation is sampling. JMO!
 


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