Sunday, January 19, 2020
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Reader’s comment: Copyright minefield

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In response to Jane Kelly: My theatrical clash with the copyright commissars,

Owen_Morgan wrote: I think that copyright extends to seventy-five years after the death of an artist, but it is a bit of a minefield even beyond that. Thanks to the French, the EU created a concept called ‘droit de suite’, which enables descendants of artists to claim a share of re-sale royalties (although not, as far as I am aware, to impose copyright restrictions).

On the other hand, there was a spate of cases, some years ago, in which music publishers tried to assert copyright over works by Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn and so forth. The pieces were ones popular with choral societies: Messiah, The Creation, Elijah etc. The publishers could hardly claim to own the copyright of the actual music, which had never been theirs in the first place, but they claimed ownership of the editions which they published. If the choirs wanted to use ‘their’ editions, they would have to pay the publishers royally: none of this photo-copying of identical choral or instrumental parts, thanks very much, but the full price paid for a separate score for each performer.

I can’t imagine that it was a great business model for the music houses. The choirs decided, no doubt, to sing something else, or to invest in a few rolls of Sellotape and make do with the yellowing pages of the scores they had. Similarly, I tend to doubt that there is a particularly valid case for forbidding the photography of loaned paintings. Rembrandts are well out of conventional copyright, after all. The daftest example of this attitude involved a couple of paintings loaned to an exhibition at the Tate. Both were owned by a Gulf art gallery and neither was even reproduced in the exhibition catalogue. If the idea was to get the art-lover to make a special trip to Abu Dhabi, or wherever, I’m afraid the effect didn’t work on me.

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