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MMD > Archives > June 2003 > 2003.06.12 > 02Prev  Next


Mechanical Music Instruments Can Perform Parody
By Harald Mueller

Ingmar Krause wrote in 030611 MMDigest:

> Under the law, after a certain amount of changes to the tune it becomes
> a variation, and if you want to go into the grey area of argumentation,
> then your purpose of playing the music is not imitation, but parody!
> No law in the world can stop you from doing parody.

First, this is obviously not true: A parody is stopped by many laws in
may countries.  As far as I know, you cannot even parody "The Stars and
Stripes Forever" in the U.S.A.

 [ The U.S. government did not stop citizens when they recently burned
 [ U.S. flags in protest, so I don't think the government would halt
 [ a parody of Sousa's famous march.  But angry bystanders might tar
 [ and feather you and carry you out of town on a rail!  ;-)
 [
 [ March historian Lester S. Levy wrote that the song is "probably
 [ the greatest and most widely performed popular march ever written."
 [ The song was never adopted as the U.S. national anthem, fortunately;
 [ Sousa's music is too great to suffer that dubious honor.
 [
 [ In 1977 President Ronald Reagan signed the order declaring "The
 [ Stars and Stripes Forever" as "Official March of the United States
 [ of America."  I think that's a greater honor!  -- Robbie

Regarding music, the problem is obviously "What is a musical parody?"
I'm quite sure that just playing music on an, let's say, 'unorthodox'
instrument is _not_ parody.  Let me paraphrase you, Ingmar, from one
of your previous postings: What we want to evoke in the listener is
the _illusion_ that she or he is hearing the _original music_.  This
is obviously not parody, and you would not convince the lawyers of
GEMA, ASCAP, etc., otherwise.

Essentially, I think that paying fees for playing music in the public
is right.  Composers (and arrangers ;-) have a right to get paid for
their inventions; and when they are played very often, then in a free
market, they should earn much.

GEMA in Germany has precise rules and fees -- why shouldn't you pay
them?  If you really don't want to, you can always send a letter to
the composer and argue with her/him that you should get a contract
specifying you don't have to pay, for whatever good reasons you have
-- although I doubt that composers or their representatives (which
are quite often the big music publishers) will agree with that.

The other issue is whether you or someone has the _right_ to arrange
music.  Here, as I outlined in a posting long ago, the rules are about
as follows:

* If you "re-record" the music, even with different instruments, no one
can prevent this as long as the music was recorded and publicly sold
(even for nothing) previously; this is true for almost all music.

* If you (re-)arrange the music (meaning you invent something new),
you must also have an agreement from the composer or his/her
representative; and they can tack an arbitrary fee on this.

But here I argue, again following Ingmar, that in many cases we reduce
the original to another instrumentation, which is not arranging but
adaptation for a recording.  (Therefore I like to write on my
arrangements "adapted for barrel organ by ...", _not_ "arranged by
...").

But this is, obviously, also a grey area. However, GEMA, ASCAP etc.
will _not_ look for violations of this rule.  This is the job of the
copyright owner, and they don't deal with and want to argue with every
arranger out there over whether the next performance's score is a
re-arrangement or an adaptation to a different orchestration.

Regards

Harald M. Mueller

 [ Parody and "re-arrangement" is well illustrated by the hit recording
 [ of "Cocktails For Two", arranged and performed by Spike Jones and
 [ his City Slickers:  "In some secluded rendezvous... <'Whoopeeee!'>
 [ <bang!><bang!>"
 [
 [ About 10 years ago a small New York troupe led by banjoist Eddie
 [ Davis staged an entertaining revival of Spike Jones' classic music
 [ parodies.  The show was soon halted by Spike Jones' heirs, and Davis
 [ wasn't able to negotiate reasonable (affordable) performance license
 [ fees with the heirs (Spike Jones Jr.).  To my knowledge Jones'
 [ estate hasn't yet licensed anyone to publicly perform the music
 [ parodies by Spike Jones; his estate controls them tightly.
 [
 [ -- Robbie


(Message sent Thu 12 Jun 2003, 08:53:20 GMT, from time zone GMT+0200.)

Key Words in Subject:  Can, Instruments, Mechanical, Music, Parody, Perform

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