The Legality of Arranging
By Jonathan Minkoff ©2009

WHERE DOES THE RIGHT TO MAKE MUSICAL ARRANGEMENTS COME FROM?
The constitution of the United States gives 

Congress the power and responsibility to encourage the arts. Title 17 of the United States Code is the law created by Congress pursuant to this charge which grants artists protection for their original works, including musical arrangements.

Copyright protection in original musical works, including any accompanying words or sound recordings is provided by section 102 of this law. Section 103 makes clear that the protection afforded these original works also extends to derivative works. Artists' exclusive rights are described in section 106 and they include the exclusive rights to "prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work".

What's a derivative work? Section 101 defines a “derivative work” as a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as [tah dah] ... a musical arrangement. And that is where babies come from.

WHO CAN MAKE A MUSICAL ARRANGEMENT?
As we can see from the above language, the default rule is that ONLY the composer of a song can prepare a musical arrangement of the song. But thankfully, there are exceptions.

WHEN MAY SOMEONE OTHER THAN THE COMPOSER PREPARE AN ARRANGEMENT?
Arrangements made by someone other than the composer are LEGAL when:

  • the song being arranged is in public domain; OR
  • the arranger has the explicit permission of any one of the song's composers/publishers to make the arrangement; OR
  • the song arrangement is created specifically to be recorded under a  compulsory license, AND the arrangement IS recorded, AND proper royalties are actually paid in accordance with section 115.
The statutory language of section 115 says "A compulsory license [to make a sound recording] includes the privilege of making a musical arrangement of the work to the extent necessary to conform it to the style or manner of interpretation of the performance involved, but the arrangement shall not change the basic melody or fundamental character of the work, and shall not be subject to protection as a derivative work ..., except with the express consent of the copyright owner."

The law creates a very interesting outcome: the arranger may arrange without the permission of the author in this limited situation, but the arranger does not "own" a copyright in this legally made arrangement without the permission of the author!

ARE THERE OTHER TIMES WHEN SOMEONE OTHER THAN THE COMPOSER MAY PREPARE AN ARRANGEMENT?
Arrangements may (possibly) be legal when the arrangements are created by or for a group publicly performing where the group or owner of the performance space has paid for the rights to publicly perform the song. The theory here is that the payment for the right to publicly perform may be viewed as necessarily including the right to make an arrangement for that purpose. Every performance incorporates some arrangement. The "right" to perform a song would be of little value without the ability to express that song in an arrangement.

Parody. If the song you are arranging is being parodied by your arrangement, you probably have the right to do this without the permission of the composer. Note that this protection may rely on the subject of the parody being about the song and not about some other topic. Also, you are limited to using only the material of the original song necessary to "make the point". If this seems a pretty vague guideline, it's because it is.

WHAT ABOUT ACADEMIC ARRANGING?
Arranging for academic purposes is very common, but there is no statutory language that I can find which would allow an entire song to be arranged without permission. The exception, which falls under the Doctrine of Fair Use (read about Fair Use here) would be when the arrangement uses just part of a song for scholastic analysis. 

An example of such legal arranging might be arranging just one verse and the chorus of the Beatles tune, "Hard Days Night" in several contrasting styles in order to demonstrate the variations on the use of dissonance in different genres. Another example of what could also be allowed would be playing the entire original Beatles track if the source was legal (say a store bought CD). 

An example of something not allowed might be playing a stolen MP3 of the Beatles original for the class and having everyone go make their own arrangements, turn them in and then give copies of the highest graded arrangement to the entire class to take home and study.

Yes, that all seems like it should be legal, but it's not. "Who's being hurt? No one!" Yeah, sorry. Can't do it. Read on.

WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE ARRANGERS OFFERING ARRANGING SERVICES?
There are many arranging services and they each have their own agreements between composers, publishers and groups, so no blanket statements can be made about all of them. But, selling arrangements of non-public domain songs without the publisher's or composers' permission where the arranger has no knowledge as to what the arrangements will be used for appears to be in direct violation of the copyright act.

WHO'S LIABLE?
The arranger is liable for violating the composer's exclusive right to "prepare derivative works". The preparation of the arrangement is the infringing act. It does NOT NOT NOT (can't say that enough) need to be done for profit. The group may be viewed as having helped prepare the work, making them co-infringers, or having paid for or encouraged the arrangement, making them guilty of a kind of copyright "aiding and abetting" -contributory infringement.

JUST HOW LIABLE IS LIABLE ANYWAY?
Courts can issue an injunction mandating the arranger stop arranging in infringing ways. All the arrangement copies can be impounded and destroyed. That's just a fun little warm-up.

The arranger is liable to pay the composer, the composer's choice of EITHER:
1) the copyright owner's actual damages and any additional profits of the infringer; or
2) statutory damages.

And the court, in its discretion, may also allow the recovery of full costs and attorney's fees to the prevailing party. If you've ever seen how high attorneys' fees and court costs get, you'll understand that this is not an insignificant deterrent.

HOW MUCH ARE THOSE STATUTORY DAMAGES?
That depends on just how "bad" the infringement was. Badness is not a legal term. But as you may have guessed, it relates to the common sense ideas of how much infringing you did and your state of mind while you did it. The court does note the difference between accidentally pressing "send" on one copy of one arrangement and deliberately charging fees for an entire stolen vault of arrangements. Specifically, here are the damage ranges:

1) You had no idea you were infringing, but you can't prove your good faith ignorance: not less than $750 or more than $30,000 per work, per infringement, as the court considers just.
2) You PROVE that you reasonably had no idea you were infringing: not less than $200 or more than $30,000 per work, per infringement, as the court considers just.
3) They prove you willfully infringed: not less than $750 or more than $150,000 per work, per infringement, as the court considers just.

WHAT ABOUT CRIMINAL PUNISHMENT?
Many people are very surprised to learn that there are criminal penalties to infringement. Surprise!

If you willfully infringe copyright, either...
1) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain -OR-
2) via reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords [CDs, DVDs, etc] of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000,

then §2319 of title 18, United States Code says here's the punishment:

(b) Any person who commits an offense [as described above]...
(1) shall be imprisoned not more than 5 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense consists of the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of at least 10 copies or phonorecords, of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $2,500;
(2) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense is a second or subsequent offense under paragraph (1); and
(3) shall be imprisoned not more than 1 year, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, in any other case.
(c) Any person who commits an offense under section 506 (a)(2) of title 17, United States Code--
(1) shall be imprisoned not more than 3 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense consists of the reproduction or distribution of 10 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of $2,500 or more;
(2) shall be imprisoned not more than 6 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense is a second or subsequent offense under paragraph (1); and
(3) shall be imprisoned not more than 1 year, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense consists of the reproduction or distribution of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000.

HOW LONG DO THEY HAVE TO FILE SUIT AGAINST AN ARRANGER?
Criminal: The state has 5 years from the infringement to prosecute the arranger.
Civil: The composer/publisher has 3 years from the infringement to sue the arranger.

IS THE GOVERNMENT TRYING TO ENFORCE THESE LAWS? ARE COMPOSERS? PUBLISHERS?
I don't know the statistics regarding enforcement. But I'd guess that there's a significant increase in either enforcement or media coverage of enforcement. More composers know their rights. More state actors are charged with cyber investigations.

SHOULD I MOVE TO CHINA?
That depends. You'll really have to decide for yourself.

CONCLUSION
Remember when the world was all dial up? It seems impossible to remember those days when every cafe is wi-fi-ed, and every phone has a PDA with Google as a home page. I recognize that the previous sentence will be impossibly outdated, probably by the time this article is submitted, but its premise will not: Today's efficient searching technology becomes a cornerstone for tomorrow's efficient legal enforcement.

Well-financed media conglomerates seem to find it well-worth their time and money to pursue even "small fish" as an example to other "small fish". Being small, being ignorant of the law, and being unprofitable -whether by accident or design- carry little weight in court. Penning illegal musical arrangements in the privacy of one's dorm room may forever fly under the radar. Let's hope so. But for those whose arrangement wares are reachable via the net, the danger is growing. 

The best answer, as I've proposed in the past, isn't a change in the behavior of  all these arrangers. It's a change in the law. It's time for a compulsory license for musical arrangements. Composers get revenue, arrangers and artists get peace of mind and everybody wins.

Here's an important legal disclaimer: Nothing in this article is legal advice. It's merely a general discussion of the law. Allow me to specify: if you have a specific question or situation requiring legal counsel, you need to speak to a specific lawyer personally who will ask you specific questions about your specific situation which will allow him to do specific research in order to give you specific advice. 
 


Comments

sam
10/02/2012 05:41

I want to know that is it legal that I arrange a singer's song for piano solo and I sell it's sheet music without getting permission from the singer or composer?

Reply
10/02/2012 15:34

Sam,

In the US, if a song is *not* in the public domain, then you need the permission of at least one composer to sell your arrangement.

The only exception is if you pay the compulsory license fees and you only make your own arrangement for purposes of making the recording. This still won't let you sell sheet music without permission, but at least you'll be able to legally record your arrangement.

I hope that helps!

For other questions, I think the three articles on arranging hosted here on www.acappella101.com will have the answers!

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sam
10/03/2012 03:38

so,how can I get permission from the composer?the permission must be written?

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10/03/2012 13:46

Sam,

You can write to the publisher who represents any of the composers. That information is readily available through google or ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. But remember, they do not have to say yes. And no answer is a no. The permission does not have to be in writing, but I very, very strongly recommend that it is in writing.

Good luck!

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Amy
12/04/2012 15:39

Just to clarify, if a song is "Public Domain," I am able to arrange it and SELL the sheet music?

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Jonathan Minkoff
12/04/2012 15:50

That is correct! You can arrange public domain songs and sell them for any price you want, without payment to anyone else. Good deal huh?

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Char
01/09/2013 14:53

Great info!!
I am a voice teacher. I prepare anywhere from 16-24 bars of published music and arrange it for my students to use at their auditions. I have about 25 pieces (some in public domain, some are not) which I have "cut and pasted" by hand for the accompanist to play. I would like to publish my own book of these pieces. Am I able to do this, or am I actually infringing copyright with "my" extracted pieces?

Reply
01/10/2013 11:49

Hello Ms. Voice Teacher;

The public domain materials are yours to do with as you like. As for the material that's still under copyright, the real question you are asking is this: "Does Fair Use allow me to use 16 bars of a copyrighted work without payment or permission?" And for the answer, I suggest this article: http://www.acappella101.com/1/post/2012/02/fair-use-using-others-works-without-permission-or-payment.html

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Brad
02/24/2013 18:33

So, if the arrangement was done more than 3 years ago, then the infringer is "safe" from civil charges?

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02/25/2013 01:06

Brad, that appears to be the state of the copyright law. However, a clever attorney may be able to get around that limitation in any number of ways that are just too complex to get into in a forum like this. So "safe" might be an overstatement.

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Curious Band Arranger for Profit
07/31/2013 22:44

If I join ASCAP, or any other (PRO):Performing Rights Organization,
Do I need to get permission to arrange, and sell my arrangements for profit via the internet on my own website? If so, how, and what are the fees?
Is there a yearly flat rate to pay the artist and publishers?
Or is it based upon how much money I make on their songs?
I want to do this the right way. Because I believe producers and the artist should receive their just due, and I don't want to be sued or go to jail.- Curious Band Arranger for Profit

Reply
08/01/2013 12:47

Hello Curious Band Arranger for Profit!

You asked "If I join a PRO, do I need to get permission to arrange, and sell my arrangements for profit via the internet on my own website?" The answer to that lies in the name PERFORMING rights. These societies license the right to PERFORM. What you want is the right to ARRANGE. So everything in the section marked "WHEN MAY SOMEONE OTHER THAN THE COMPOSER PREPARE AN ARRANGEMENT?" still holds true. I hope that's helpful!

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Emily
08/10/2013 06:18

If I have a performance of my choir singing my a capella arrangement of "Stand by Me" -- which, from what I can gather, Sony owns the rights to -- can I use video footage of this performance to fundraise for the choir? Would that be taken as "for-profit"? Thank you!

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08/10/2013 17:17

Emily, the question you asked is so much more complicated than you might think! I think what you'd like to know is not whether your use is for-profit or not-for-profit, but whether you are permitted to make and then use the video. I recommend that you read these two articles thoroughly: http://www.acappella101.com/1/post/2012/02/fair-use-using-others-works-without-permission-or-payment.html and http://www.acappella101.com/1/post/2011/08/giving-music-away-legally.html

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

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Brian
08/14/2013 20:06

Do I need permission to write an arrangement of a pop tune for my concert band and then perform it in concert?

Thanks
Brian

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08/15/2013 15:23

Brian, you asked whether you need permission to write an arrangement of a pop tune for your concert band and then perform it in concert. The answer is in the article above:

"Arrangements may (possibly) be legal when the arrangements are created by or for a group publicly performing where the group or owner of the performance space has paid for the rights to publicly perform the song. The theory here is that the payment for the right to publicly perform may be viewed as necessarily including the right to make an arrangement for that purpose. Every performance incorporates some arrangement. The "right" to perform a song would be of little value without the ability to express that song in an arrangement."

I hope that's helpful!

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Ashlee Errthum
08/21/2013 20:57

I'm a junior in high school aspiring to be a composer. I have recently started composing my own songs but want to do an arrangement of "I Won't Give Up" by Jason Mraz to make it a duet, so I can perform it with my boyfriend this february at the school talent show. It wouldn't be for profit and would never be distributed for profit or otherwise, except my boyfriend so he can learn his part and guitar. Would I need permission to do this? Is it legal to make it without express permission?

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08/26/2013 12:08

Ashlee,

Most schools pay for the blanket right to perform music. I argue that this conveys the right to arrange in just the limited manner you describe above: not for profit, not distributed, etc. If that's accurate, I'd say go ahead and have a great performance!

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Daniel
08/31/2013 20:36

As you know, playing video game music on the piano is popular nowadays.

Let's say I wanted to arrange a song from Super Mario Bros for piano solo, do I need to get permission of any sort if I wanted to sell the sheet music and recording of my own arrangement of the song?

They're songs I heard from the game and combine that with my passion for the piano... Who wouldn't want to do their own arrangement of those songs?

Jarrod Radnich does this himself. He's arranged Pirates of the Carribean, Jurassic Park, Hedwig's theme from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. All of it is arranged for piano solo even though these works were never written for piano solo to begin with. He's made millions of dollars doing this. If you never heard of Jarrod Radnich, look him up on Google.

Reply
09/02/2013 16:54

Video game music is very popular these days. You will need permission to sell (or even give away) any arrangements of video game music, regardless of which instrument you arrange for. Try contacting the publisher of the music. Good luck!

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Sean
09/02/2013 15:52

Can I arrange a pop tune that is already arranged by someone? The song is Wake Up Everybody arranged by Jay Althouse. I want to arrange it for a recorder group.

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09/02/2013 17:01

Sean, you can arrange a pop tune for the purpose of making a licensed recording. You may also be permitted to arrange the tune for the purpose of performing the song live, if the venue you are performing in (or you) have paid for the right to perform the song. You can also arrange the song if you have the permission of any of the composers, lyricists or publishers. The fact that you are arranging the song for recorders should not matter. Good luck!

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Elizabeth
09/20/2013 23:55

A piece of copyrighted orchestral music is arranged for solo piano. The melody is identical to the original melody, it's even in the same key. You have paid for a compulsory license (same as mechanical license, right?). You record your arrangement. Can you also legally sell that recording? This is assuming that you have paid to distribute a certain number of recorded CDs.
By the way, thank you for your post. Much more informative than a lot of the explanations I've looked at.

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09/21/2013 08:05

Elizabeth,

Yes! If you have paid for a compulsory license, that grants you the right to arrange the underlying composition for the purpose of making *and selling or giving away* the recording. You cannot sell the sheet music or post the arrangement on line, but you can absolutely sell your own licensed recording. That is exactly what you paid for!

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Elizabeth
09/21/2013 13:57

Since you mentioned posting online...I have looked into the possibility of getting the licenses required to post arrangements on YouTube. The cost is exorbitant, the licenses last for a limited time, you don't get any money from advertising, and there's a good chance you'll put money out just to discover that you can't post that arrangement. So, how are The Piano Guys doing what they do? They're on a record label now so I'm assuming they're legitimate, but it seems like they can't possibly be going through the process I have been looking at... Thoughts?

09/23/2013 08:43

Posting on youtube is usually "successfully" done by people who make their own video of their own sound recording of someone else's song. If the owners complain, youtube takes it down. But often the owners are willing to monetize your video with a cut of youtube's advertising.

You get to make a video without paying for a sync license which allows you to get publicity off some else's song. The composers get money from ads, and youtube gets money from ads as well.

If you want to keep the income, then you need either original material or public domain material you've arranged or a negotiated sync license (which you discovered can be both expensive and limited).

As for specific comparisons like The Piano Guys, there are several possibilities. 1) They aren't keeping the money from ads, just enjoying the publicity; 2) The record company negotiated licenses for them.

You may find this article on Giving Away Music Legally useful: http://www.acappella101.com/1/post/2011/08/giving-music-away-legally.html

Elizabeth
09/23/2013 11:49

Thank you for your responses. I have learned a lot from your articles. Very helpful!

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Daniel
10/09/2013 22:11

I am a freshman in High School and I have recently started working on a marching band arrangement of the Raiders' March from Indiana Jones. How can I get permission to do this legally

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Travis
10/23/2013 19:39

Hello, there was a mashup of the coldplay songs, The Scientist, viva la vida, and fix you. I was curious if my schools acapella choir could preform this at concerts

Reply
10/24/2013 10:44

Daniel,

To make a "fully" legal arrangement of the Raiders March I suggest you contact Warner Tamerlane Publishing Corp and ask for permission. Otherwise I refer you to the other articles I've written about arranging, for other approaches.

Jonathan

Reply
10/24/2013 10:49

Travis,

Technically, mash-ups are actually arrangements and to be "fully" legal you'd need to get permission to make the mash-up from at least one composer or publisher of each of the songs being used. In reality, this almost never happens. For practical purposes, most composers seem to treat the mash-up as individual songs. So if you can legally perform each of the songs individually -say, because you've paid for the blanket license to publicly perform them- it's unlikely that you'll have any problems due to the mash-up format.

Jonathan

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Curious Band Teacher for No Profit
10/26/2013 12:49

We have purchased a thousand hymn books at the small Christian school at which I teach. Also have the CCLI for powerpoint display. Can I arrange and transpose these for my young band students to perform, not perform, peak interest, compete in festivals, and enjoy?

Reply
10/28/2013 17:47

Arranging, transposing and selling hymns without paying anything to anyone is fully legal, if the hymns' melody and lyrics are in the public domain.

Anything published before 1923 is in the public domain. For everything else, refer to this chart.

http://webshare.northseattle.edu/tlc/copyright/copyrightchart.shtm

It's not always easy to know whether materials published after 1923 are in the public domain or not, and for this reason attorneys are often hired to get to the bottom of things. But the chart will help and thankfully there are more hymns from before 1923 than you could probably arrange in a lifetime! Best of luck!

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Derek McIntire
11/27/2013 00:55

I have two questions. My wife writes songs and recently a friend of ours asked to arrange one of her songs for a choir and orchestra. I understand we can charge an arranger fee but who owns the arrangement or is that up to how we right up the arranger agreement? Secondly if they record that arrangement on a CD who gets the royalties - the arranger or the composer or both? Thanks!

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11/29/2013 22:31

Derek,

A licensed arrangement is one in which the composer gives the arranger permission to make, sell and distribute a written arrangement of the composition. You may write up any monetary agreement you wish in this regard. The composer could be paid a lump fee or the parties could split future sales, or whatever you like. Just put it in a signed writing! You should also indicate who owns the copyright in the arrangement. Perhaps both parties. Perhaps just one.

Typically, the composer gets 100% of the compulsory license fees for a recording of the song, or a live performance of the song (see ASCAP, BMI, SONY, SESAC). The arranger's right to payment usually comes from the selling of sheet music which the group uses to create its recording or performance.

To avoid confusion, it's best to write down both parties' expectations in your contract.

My tip: remember that keeping track of what others do can be more effort than it's worth. There's a value in having a clean contract that doesn't require complicated policing, especially when there isn't a lot of money at stake. An example might be: Arranger pays composer X dollars for the right to sell or give away unlimited copies of the written arrangement for a period of Y years in Z geographical locations. Once the composer gets paid, she doesn't need to watch over the arranger to make sure the split is fair or the payments are made on time or that each copy is accounted for. And the arranger is motivated to try and make profit by selling as many copies as possible during the term.

Obviously agreements are best handled by an attorney who will cover many, many additional areas.

Good luck!

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Serena Lee
12/07/2013 16:21

Hello,
Thank you for this article. I am still having trouble on what I should do in my situation though.
For my senior project at school, I wanted to arrange a mashup from 3 different artists. I may or may not have my Jazz Choir at my school record it, and I do not know whether my school will want to sell the recording. Should I ask the artists/publishers' permissions to arrange the song anyway in advance or after we decide to sell my arrangement or any recording?
Thank you so much!

Reply
12/08/2013 23:05

Serena,

You are very welcome. Thank you for the kind words! I can tell you are just trying to do the right thing here, and I can state that typically, people just go ahead and make these mash-up arrangements and then, maybe worry about rights afterwards, if ever.

Sadly, I cannot tell you that this is the legal approach. Like much of what's going on copyright, the practice and the law are out of sync, to say the least.

If you want to be sure that what you are doing is legal, you would need the permission of the composers or their publishers of all three songs to make a mash-up.

The next best thing, and probably much easier, would be making a licensed recording (it can be just one copy) and paying the license fee of about one dime to each of them, and then making your arrangement pursuant to that. (You should definitely read this article for how to do this: http://www.acappella101.com/1/post/2012/02/licensing-and-distribution.html )

Following that, you get into grayer areas of the law.

I hope that's helpful. Good luck!

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Michael
01/16/2014 01:26

Hello,
I think I have my answer, but I need to be certain. I am a high school student and I am currently making an arrangement of the tune Strasbourg St. Denis by Roy Hargrove for my school's jazz band. Now I have heard many many MANY different arrangements of this song from both professionals and amateur musicians so I'm assuming I'm safe to make one too. If I do, can I perform it for a school concert? I'm not planning on selling it, but I am debating on whether or not to record it. Your thoughts and feedback? Thanks!

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01/16/2014 09:22

Michael, let's say you lived near a highway. As you drive on that highway, you see that people regularly drive about 10mph above the posted limit. Could you say that you are "safe" to drive above the speed limit, even though, technically, you're still breaking the law and could be ticketed? The situation is similar with arrangements of copyrighted songs. You have to separate the issue of legality from probability of enforcement.

The law states that for a copyrighted work that is not in the public domain, ONLY THE COMPOSER may prepare an arrangement, except in the case of a recording made pursuant to a compulsory license.

I know that you are more interested in making the arrangement than making a recording. But if you make one copy of a licensed recording, which would cost you about a dime (plus the postage to send it to the composer/publisher), then you would also have the right to make an arrangement, which is what you really wanted.

I've written a lot more on this subject, and it's all available on this site. But that's the general gist of "how to drive the speed limit". If you feel like going over the limit, then you might just make the arrangement and not tell, ask or pay anyone anything. Now, the issue is about being caught (enforcement), and the morality of using someone else's work without payment or permission. And for now, I leave that to your own sense of right and wrong. I'll add two things: 1) like that highway, most people just make the arrangement and 2) Given how tough it is for artists and composers, I'd like to see more people do the right thing. A little bit from a lot of people goes a long way.

I hope that's helpful!

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Matthew
01/20/2014 00:15

I'm a high school student. I just wrote an arrangement of a copywrited piece of music just for the fun of it. I don't intend to sell it, or record it, or preform it. Should I still be scared that someone's going to try to sue my pants off if they find out about my arrangement?

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01/20/2014 12:54

Matthew,

If your real question is, "Is making an arrangement of a copyrighted work legal, so long as I do not sell, copy, gift, disseminate, record or perform it?" then the answer, surprisingly, is "No. It is not legal. Even "preparing" an arrangement is a violation of the copyright act." That may seem unfair, but it's the letter of the law. If, on the other hand, your question is whether you should be scared you'll be sued for merely making an arrangement for your own enjoyment, then I think the answer is no. But you'd need to be careful: making an arrangement and offering it online for free could land you in hot water. Despite what the media reports, people, and especially struggling musicians, don't like to sue anyone, much less their fans. It's often as scary and expensive to sue as it is to be sued.

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Vera
02/18/2014 09:18

Hi, I am a simple amateur and I have written several simple children's songs with the lyrics. When I say "written," it means the melody and the words only (no chords, no harmony, no multiple instruments).

I would like to have a musician (probably a music student) arrange these songs - that is, put in chords, possibly harmony, and a few instruments so that I can sell them online or in multimedia products. Any recommendation on what kinds of remuneration or royalties such an arranger is entitled to? Is there any standard practice among musicians?

From your article, what I understand is that if I register my simple song (melody +words), and someone wants to add chords and more to it, that is considered an arrangement, and they would need my permission, right?

Reply
02/18/2014 11:32

Vera,

Standard practice is for you to pay the arranger a flat fee for the completed arrangement and all rights to it. That is true the if arrangement is written, or written and recorded, or just recorded. Costs range widely between approximately $50 per written arrangement to about $1,000 or more per arrangement, especially if the arrangements are very complex and recorded with multiple instruments.

Once you have published these songs (sold or given away any copies), then anyone may record an arrangement of your songs without asking your permission, so long as they pay you your fees under the compulsory license provisions of the Copyright Act, usually about 9.1 cent per copy of the song. They can sell their audio recordings of your songs for any amount or just give them away; that doesn't affect what you are owed. They may not sell or give away the written arrangements. They mast not sync videos to your songs without your permission. They may not use the songs to advertise a product or service on TV, or play it live unless you grant those rights by becoming a member of ASCAP, BMI, etc.. There are many things they cannot do.

If the arranger wishes to own the arrangement of your song, this is something that they would have to negotiate from you. You would require a written a agreement.

All this is true whether or not you register. But registration is highly recommended because you cannot enforce your rights effectively without doing so.

I hope that helps! Good luck!

Jonathan

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Vera
02/22/2014 15:08

Hello, thank you for your quick and detailed response! I thought I had understood, but I'm not sure I did.

In the post, you explained: WHO CAN MAKE A MUSICAL ARRANGEMENT?
"As we can see from the above language, the default rule is that ONLY the composer of a song can prepare a musical arrangement of the song. But thankfully, there are exceptions."

So this ban on arrangements is while the song has never been published? As long as the song has not been published, even if a musician gets a hold of the song, they cannot arrange it without my permission?

Once the song is published, then anyone can make an arrangement as long as they pay me the correct fees - is this correct?

Vera
02/22/2014 15:08

Hello, thank you for your quick and detailed response! I thought I had understood, but I'm not sure I did.

In the post, you explained: WHO CAN MAKE A MUSICAL ARRANGEMENT?
"As we can see from the above language, the default rule is that ONLY the composer of a song can prepare a musical arrangement of the song. But thankfully, there are exceptions."

So this ban on arrangements is while the song has never been published? As long as the song has not been published, even if a musician gets a hold of the song, they cannot arrange it without my permission?

Once the song is published, then anyone can make an arrangement as long as they pay me the correct fees - is this correct?

Kris
02/22/2014 13:15

I'm currently a senior in High School. I had an idea for a medley of multiple video game melodies. I was hoping to play it in a non-profit orchestra concert at my school. Would that be considered illegal?

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Kris
02/22/2014 13:23

I would like to add that it is only going to be performed. It is not going to be distributed for use outside of the performance.

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02/25/2014 12:56

Kris,

I think you want to read this article first: http://www.acappella101.com/1/post/2012/02/permission-to-arrange-for-live-performance.html

Jonathan

Vera
02/22/2014 15:09

Hello, thank you for your quick and detailed response! I thought I had understood, but I'm not sure I did.

In the post, you explained: WHO CAN MAKE A MUSICAL ARRANGEMENT?
"As we can see from the above language, the default rule is that ONLY the composer of a song can prepare a musical arrangement of the song. But thankfully, there are exceptions."

So this ban on arrangements is while the song has never been published? As long as the song has not been published, even if a musician gets a hold of the song, they cannot arrange it without my permission?

Once the song is published, then anyone can make an arrangement as long as they pay me the correct fees - is this correct?

Reply
02/25/2014 13:01

The ban on ANY arrangements or performances or recordings, is prior to the song being published. But following its publishing, the composer still retains the sole, exclusive right to prepare an arrangement, EXCEPT for the purpose of making a licensed recording under the compulsory license provisions of the Copyright Act. So once the song is published, anyone can make an arrangement FOR THE PURPOSE OF RECORDING IT, if they pay the right fees. That still will not give them the right to sell or gift the arrangement. I hope that helps.

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Vera
02/22/2014 15:10

sorry for the repeated posts - I kept getting an error while trying to post!!

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Bob (Bob Quaman)
04/18/2014 20:54

I am a teacher at a high school. Every year we host a marching band festival for local high school bands as a fund raiser for the vocal and instrumental music programs at the high school, and we have been doing so for over 30 years. As the copyright issue becomes more in question, we are concerned as to insuring that we do whatever we are supposed to do. For the past 10 years or so, an independent local recording company videos the show and sells the videos. They probably sell a maximum of 100 videos - probably less.

I am concerned we may be violating some copyright laws, or that the video company or the performing bands may be doing this. The published information is confusing.

I have read that three things are required for each tune - permission to arrange the music (realistically every performance involves music that has some changes from the published version like adding some percussion parts - and some is totally rewritten), permission to perform it (even standing still), and permission to march while playing it (a synchronization license)? Is this correct? Who is legally responsible for these things? Could we be liable in some way as the host of the festival? As I said, we sell tickets to the event as a fundraiser for our high school music program, but we do not make any revenue from selling the videos. We want to be legal, but the complication is intimidating. What should we be doing?

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