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MMD > Archives > November 2001 > 2001.11.21 > 07Prev  Next

Copyrights & Licensing Music Rolls
By Tim Rickman

A few days ago I read with great interest, and later with much
frustration, the information that Matthew Caulfield brought to light
about the vague copyright issues in relation to non- and mechanical
music issues.

While his subject concerned the public domain and later concerns of the
musical score, I have a question regarding mechanical (as in recording
and reproducing) rights of perforated music rolls and other forms of
media in general when it comes to making a sound recording of a musical
instrument for commercial sales or playing a musical instrument in a
commercial setting.

When one buys a roll for an  "XYZ" instrument from a company like
Play-Rite -- or an O roll from Capitol Music, or a piano roll from
QRS or a floppy disk or CD for a QRS Pianomation or PianoDisc MIDI
based reproducing piano -- when one puts that "roll" or whatever on
their machine, they are greeted by a manufacturer's copyright notice.
Okay, I'm not going to copy this music, I'm only going to play it.

Many of us, I'm sure, have purchased sound recordings from various
markets or web sites.  I know I certainly have, and I'm sure there are
probably a few readers in this group that have recorded or used their
instruments for commercial purposes.

I'm curious as to how copyright and mechanical rights are dealt with
by the producers of such recordings, especially if they are using, say,
a roll that was purchased from a commercial supplier like Play-Rite or
even a custom arranged roll by someone like Art Reblitz, as the opposite
extreme?  I'm am not concerned at this point with the musical score
copyright, and we'll assume that all the music on the rolls or media
in question is all public domain.  I'm simply concerned with the
physical roll or media copyright issues when it comes to controlling
or operating a musical instrument.

When one uses their own mechanical or electronic Instrument for a
recording, and selects tunes that are pre-1923, in public domain, but
uses someone else's rolls or media to play the instrument to make the
device play, do mechanical rights or copyright issues enter the
picture?  Or is it simply assumed that when you obtained the roll that
you can use it to play your own instrument, anywhere, anytime or for
any purpose, including commercial purposes?

Let's say that I have just finished building a new and innovative
musical instrument that will play a variety of different format rolls,
as well as other media formats like disks and CD's.  I want make a
sound recording of my new instrument to give away as gifts and sell to
visitors of my museum in the gift shop.  I have a huge library of rolls
that I have obtained from commercial houses, private parties, etc.  Do
I have to obtain permission from every copyright owner of those rolls,
to use their copyrighted roll on my machine for my recording ?

It's pretty widely known that most of the commercial rolls available
are recuts of original rolls or are "borrows" from other collector's
libraries.  Even though the rolls or media may have simply been copied
from some other source and re-branded with the manufacturers copyright,
can I simply use the rolls and other legitimate media without regard
to their copyrights and mechanical rights?

Now, Matthew stated that "if you want to make a sound recording of a
tune under copyright, you need the permission of the copyright holder
unless he has already granted the right of recording to someone else".
Once he has done that, he cannot hold that right from you".

Okay, but music copyright is not the issue here -- the roll copyright
is the issue.  Does the same type of rule Matthew mentioned above apply
to using copyrighted media inclusive or exclusive of a sound recording,
if the copyright owner of that roll has given someone else permission
to copy or reproduce that media or record that media for use in a sound

And, as a separate question: Just what gives someone the right or
power to copyright something they copied from another source, like the
original that, let's say, someone lent them or an original roll from a
long time out-of-business company?  Is that really a legitimate

Here is the notice on a Play-Rite Wurlitzer 165 Roll I purchased from

  "Warning:  This music roll is full protected by the Federal
   Anti-Piracy Act of 1972.  It is unlawful to copy from or make
   duplications of this roll in any form or manner whatsoever including
   transfer to disk or magnetic tape.  Play-Rite will strictly enforce
   our right against infringement."

All Play-Rite did was copy the roll from someone else or from original
roll or from a roll they may have purchased at some time.  I don't
understand how someone can copyright something they didn't originate
or re-arrange, musically or mechanically.

Now, I'm not going to copy or duplicate this roll and will comply with
their restrictions, I'm only going to use their paper  to create the
music from my own device and then record my instrument.  How can you
copyright paper?

I guess this is another gray area, but perhaps someone out there has
been through this before and would like to shed some light if this _is_
a problem or not?

Sorry to ramble on so long.  Thanks in advance for any tips, advice,
or referrals.


Tim Rickman

(Message sent Wed 21 Nov 2001, 07:51:14 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Copyrights, Licensing, Music, Rolls

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