Dec 172014
 

I’ve been using “Wildwood Flower” as my go-to example of a tune which should be in the public domain but, thanks to copyright in a particular arrangement, effectively isn’t. But there are plenty of other examples. The tunes Ed Haley recorded seem like they also might be instructive, since I know folks are playing “Ed Haley’s version of” a number of traditional tunes at jams I go to. So, with the caveat that I am not a lawyer, here’s my understanding of when you’ll legally be allowed to play tunes the way Ed Haley played them.

Ed Haley died in 1951, leaving a number (I don’t know how many) of unpublished recordings with his descendants. BMI manages the performance rights for 73 of them; see the table below for the full list. Fourteen of them were first published in 1975 (the copyright date on the vinyl says 1976, Wikipedia says 1975, and it doesn’t matter much for our purposes) by Rounder Records as the album “Parkersburg Landing”:

  • Parkersburg Landing
  • Humphrey’s Jig
  • Stackolee
  • Cherokee Polka
  • Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Wake Susan
  • Cherry River Rag
  • Flower of the Morning
  • Grey Eagle Jig
  • Man of Constant Sorrow
  • Forked Deer
  • Lost Indian
  • Done Gone
  • Dunbar

According to Cornell’s copyright status cheat sheet, those 14 arrangements (or compositions, if they’re original) will enter the public domain 95 years after the publication date. So, in 2070 or 2071. That’s 120 years after Ed Haley died, mind you. The rest were published in 1997, which means they enter the public domain either 70 years after the creator’s death or in 2048, whichever is later. In this case, that’s 2048, nearly 100 years after he died.

Does this affect you? Well, if you play any of the tunes below, it might. Are you playing in a public venue? How sure are you that the version of Arkansas Traveler you play isn’t very similar to Ed Haley’s version? If the place you’re playing in doesn’t have a BMI license and you play Ed Haley’s version of one of these tunes, the venue could be sued by BMI. For the next 34 years, at minimum. Do you want to make and sell a CD which includes one of these arrangements? You owe the Harry Fox Agency 9.1 cents for each copy you distribute.

To be safe, you should probably stick to playing tunes which you wrote or which you’re playing exactly the way they’re printed in a book published before 1923. Traditional music, learned from other musicians in the folk process? Better keep that at home. Play it in public and someone is probably owed money, and just about the only way to know is when you get the threatening certified mail.

 

Number Work Title BMI Work #
1. ARKANSAS TRAVELER TRAD 7109434
2. BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN 7109576
3. BIRDIE S BALL 7109581
4. BLACK SHEEP 7109566
5. BLACKBERRY BLOSSOM 6757324
6. BLUE MOON SERENADE 7109577
7. BLUEGRASS MEADOWS 7109398
8. BOATMAN 6757326
9. BONAPARTE S RETREAT 6757316
10. BROWNLOW S DREAM 6757322
11. BRUSHY FORK OF JOHN S CREEK 6757315
12. BRUSHY RUN 7109392
13. CABIN CREEK 7109413
14. CACKLIN HEN 7109399
15. CATTLETTSBURG 6757318
16. CHEROKEE POLKA 7109429
17. CHERRY RIVER FLAG 7109406
18. CHICKEN REBEL 7109403
19. CHINESE BREAKDOWN 7109418
20. CLUCK OLD HEN 7109417
21. CRIPPLE CREEK TRAD 7109404
22. CUMBERLAND GAP 7109420
23. DARLING CORA 7109570
24. DIXIE ARE YOU FROM DIXIE 7109571
25. DONE GONE 7109408
26. DORA DEAN 7109397
27. DOWN ON THE FARM 7109575
28. DOWN WHERE THE MORNING GLORIES 7109572
29. DUNBAR 6757314
30. FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN 7109426
31. FLOP EARED MULE 7109400
32. FLOWERS OF THE MORNING 7109422
33. FORKED DEER 7109390
34. FORKS OF SAND 6757317
35. GREEN MOUNTAIN POLKA 7109395
36. HALF PAST FOUR 6757320
37. HELL UP COAL HOLLAR 6757312
38. HUMPHREY S JIG 7109394
39. IDA RED 6757328
40. INDIAN ATE THE WOODCHUCK 7109391
41. INDIAN NATION 7109393
42. INDIAN SQUAW 7109402
43. JENNY LIND 7109405
44. KENTUCKY WALTZ 7109568
45. KISS ME QUICK 7109431
46. LOVE SOMEBODY TRAD ARR 7109407
47. MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW 15784035
48. MIDNIGHT SERENADE 7109578
49. MISSISSIPPI SAWYER 7109430
50. MONEY MUSK 7109419
51. MY HAPPY BOYHOOD DAYS DOWN ON 7109573
52. NO CORN ON TYGART 7109411
53. OLD SLEDGE 7109424
54. OX IN THE MUD 7109416
55. PADDY ON THE TURNPIKE 7109425
56. PARKERSBURG LANDING 7109421
57. POPLAR BLUFF 7109427
58. PUMPKIN RIDGE 6757321
59. REBEL RAID 6757323
60. RED APPLE RAG 7109410
61. SALLY GOODIN 7109428
62. SALLY WILL YOU MARRY ME 7109433
63. SALT RIVER 7109401
64. SILVER DAGGER 7109414
65. SOURWOOD MOUNTAIN 7109396
66. STACKER LEE 7109409
67. STONEWALL JACKSON 7109412
68. WHEN I M GONE YOU LL SOON FORG 7109580
69. WHISPERING HOPE 7109579
70. WHITE WASHED CHIMNEY 7109574
71. WILD HORSE 7109415
72. WILSON S JIG 7109432
73. YELLOW BARBER 6757313