Accordion Articles - Safeguarding Intellectual Property by Toby Hanson

Safeguarding Intellectual Property

Written by: by Toby Hanson, USA.
Publication: General
Date written: November 2000

Ask yourself: how often have you found an accordion arrangement or CD and thought, "Gee, this is wonderful, just what I've been looking for since I was twelve years old. I bet my friends would love to hear this!" Probably all of us have thought that at one time or another. It's a natural enough reaction. How many of you have actually acted on that impulse to share your favorite music? Again, most of you probably have. What you may not be aware of, however, is that you may have also been breaking the law in doing so.

The recent controversy over the online music trading software Napster has brought to the forefront a debate over intellectual property. What is "intellectual property?" It's any creative work such as a play, story, essay, musical composition, arrangement, opera, movie, video, choreographed dance, or computer software. Essentially it's any product of human intellect that can be reproduced. These works can only be copied or reproduced with the permission of the owner of the work. Such a right is called copyright. Copyright exists from the time that a creative work is fixed in a tangible medium, i.e. written down or recorded on disc.

There are a few important concepts about copyrights to know. The first one is called "fair use." Fair use is the use of copyrighted material for non-commercial educational or demonstrative purposes. This use also pertains to song parodies so long as the parody is sufficiently different so that it doesn't get mistaken for the original song. If a teacher were giving a lesson about Henry Mancini and wanted to include short excerpts of his music he or she would be allowed to do so under fair use.

Another copyright concept is that copyright exists intrinsicly once the work is fixed in a tangible medium. The government does not grant copyrights anymore than it grants basic human rights. Copyrights exist from the birth of the work forward. What governments do is register copyrights to prove who owns them and when.

The next thing to know about copyrights is that they expire. Works not covered by copyrights are said to be in the public domain. Public domain works can be used by anyone without having to pay royalties as they belong essentially to everyone, i.e. the public. In the United States the current term of copyright is 75 years from the date of copyright. That term has changed at different points through the years as copyright law has been amended. Be aware that different countries like Canada and Germany have their own copyright laws and periods to abide by. Also be aware that just because a particular piece of music has fallen into the public domain that doesn't mean that a specific arrangement of a piece has also. Arrangements have copyrights just as compositions do.

Besides the legal concerns, which can be fuzzy and hard to understand, there's the human impact of illegal copying. Say your boss walks up to you at work one day and says, "You know, Bob, I really like your work. You're one of the hardest workers around here. Your work is so good that I'm going to give you all of Jim's, Suzie's, Bill's, Joe's, and Tony's work to do too. They sure will enjoy that!" They might enjoy it but you certainly wouldn't, especially when you're not getting PAID to do their work. Should you do the extra work for free just because your boss likes it? No.

Neither should you make and distribute illegal copies of sheet music or recordings. Yes, it's tempting to send copies of your favorite arrangement of "Springtime In The Rockies" to all of your friends in Colorado but it's also taking money out of the pockets of the composers, arrangers, and publishers, many of whom in the accordion world are operating on little if any profit. Violating their copyrights makes it that much less likely that they'll continue providing high-quality music for you.

On multiple occasions I've had people come up to me and say "Toby, I just loved your CD. It was so good that I made copies for all my friends back east! They love it." Although complimentary, the illegal copies take precious income away from me and make it harder for me to pay for my recording which, in turn, makes it harder for me to produce future recordings. I spoke recently with Gary Dahl and he recounted a similar story:

"Recently, a member of our accordion society was at the house of one of my students. Upon leaving, he spotted my arrangement of "Cool Water" and promptly took it and said as he left he was also going to make a copy for an accordionist friend of his. My stunned student asked me if I could replace the arrangement and it was then I found out who did the dirty deed. I was owed compensation for at least two copies the instant it left his house because numerous copies could have been made from that copy so returning the original arrangement would not be acceptable.

I billed him in a friendly way and included my catalog to verify the charges. This took place about a month ago and I understand he is furious about being billed. Does that make sense? He stole a part of my world wide business which I have spent a lifetime developing. I guess all arrangements by anyone are supposed to be free for him. I recently had another client who bought four copies of all of the arrangements in my catalog for a total of over $1300. This ETHICAL client purchased one set for himself and one set each for three of his friends. Even though he could have easily made copies for all his friends without my knowledge unethical photocopying never entered his mind."

While something this extreme rarely happens in the musical world it is nonetheless illegal and wrong. None of us would knowingly go over to a friend's house and steal their records and make copies for everyone. Similarly we should all strive to respect copyrights. Stealing music is no different than stealing a car or a VCR from the local Fred Meyer store.

It is this author's hope that everyone reading this would stop and ask themselves if what they're doing is really legal before making a copy of an arrangement or a CD. By safeguarding copyrights in our daily lives we help make the world a more rewarding place for those who provide us with music and, in turn, for ourselves.

Toby Hanson, USA.
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