Wednesday 5 May 2021

CLG March Talk: Copyright, Plagiarism and all that Jazz – Margaret Jones

Our March online talk for the Cambridge Library Group was given by Margaret Jones, Music Collections Supervisor, Cambridge University Library, who impressed all of us with her amazing grasp of the intricacies of music copyright. All the examples were based on real life enquiries received by the Music Department of the UL, and if you thought copyright for books was complicated enough…read on!

She explained a Performing Rights Return (PRR) – showing an example of a scruffy piece of paper which was the Return for The Swiss Family Robinson – a Walt Disney film made in the 1950s. This shows the film cues during which the music was played, details of the composer or arranger (or both), the company responsible for production, how many seconds of music was used for each section of the film, and the percentage of rights money that the composer will accrue. Although now this is all done electronically, the PRR remains the way the film company work out who they owe the money to, and the way that Rights organisations distribute payments for the composer’s work.

In the UK, the PRS (Performing Rights Society) and the MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) collect money on behalf of the composer and performers for everything from adverts and variety shows to major blockbuster films or BBC costume dramas. This is one of the vital links between copyright and composers earnings.

In the UK, Fair Use (an exception to use copyright material for education purposes) being generally accepted that users can copy up to 5% of a volume, is not applied to music in the same way. Every musical work is copyrighted separately, so an anthology of Beatles songs for example or a hymnal, each song has its own copyright and so cannot be copied.

Margaret’s talk then expanded to give examples from West Side Story, Purcell’s Rondeau and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, and investigated the links between a Clementi sonata, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and A Groovy Kind of Love, which was fascinating in its detail.

The talk concluded with a look at the Higher Education Music Licence which is being trialled this year by the University of Cambridge, and allows enhanced copying for students registered on performance-based music courses.

Post contributed by Helen Snelling, CLG Membership Secretary and Pendlebury Librarian.