There is something very strange about the source of the unattributed blues I have noded. The publisher attempted to copyright them in 1978.

If you believe that copyright is to benefit the creator of intellectual property, like a song, than you must think this strange as well. How can the writer of these songs receive any royalty from the their sale if he--probably he--is not attributed?

Even stranger, Midnight Special also is unattributed. This is one of the most famous blues, by one of the most famous blues songwriters--Leadbelly. Now, why would the publisher not credit Leadbelly? Presumably not to pay the heirs, if known, of Leadbelly. Possibly not to complicate its own copyright.

The history of the blues is a history of oppression and suffering. Even after it was discovered by young people in the 60’s, and became urban blues, most of the original bluesmen never benefited--especially the ones who never identified.

These artists, from the fields of "King" cotton in the Mississippi Delta, the pinetree forests of Georgia, or later from the industrial cities of the north, did not, could not, write down their songs. This makes copyright difficult. And it would have been foreign to them.

They played their songs for anyone who wanted to listen--or learn. And they would have learned whatever they could from anyone else. These songs, and their variants, became a tradition--a living language of song, changing from day to day, taken from, added to, shared, cultivated. Like the commons in England, before the enclosures of the agrarian revolution, blues are part of what could be called an intellectual commons until enclosed by publishers such as the one I have been referring to.

In the same way, Frederick Harris Music, publishers of the official repertoire of the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto, attempts to copyright the music of J.S. Bach. How can this be? Bach died hundred of years before the invention of intellectual property, and copyright. Surely all his music must be in the public domain?

The answer to both these conundrums seems to be this: In Canada, at least, copyright also applies to the image printed. The actual typeset of the music is copyright, not the music itself. I can’t photocopy the image of Bach’s music produced by Frederick Harris Music, but I can copy it out by hand!

Now, what the blues publisher has done is follow this idea to its ultimate end: All the music is written out by hand. It’s like a collection of photocopies.

Such a scam. Of course this is piracy. Of course this is wrong. But why not? It is a corporate entity, and maybe some judge somewhere will recognize the copyright, not just to the image, but to the actual words and music. And again a corporation will win out over a person. This is the inevitable end, when the balance between the creator of a work, and the public, as envisioned by the Fathers of the American Constitution is upset--upset by the corporate owners that now dominate the system.

As the nobility did in England by enclosing the commons, and driving the people off the land to the cities to fuel the industrial revolution, so the intellectual commons that is the internet is enclosed, fueling the new economy. It is much easier to pirate a bounty that has evolved through the contributions of many, both as individuals, and through public investment, than to truly innovate, and create.

The Threat to the Internet is Not the Government.


tregowith: The whole point of using the Conservatory books, is not to have to buy the original, expensive collections. Yes, fingering, and the execution of ornaments may well be different from the original. But it is not my expectation that the actual notes will be rearranged. In Bach especially, one seeks the urtext--the unsimplified originals.

Otherwise, it becomes mere popular arrangements, like the Bastien, Alfred, or Bradley series of books, and their arrangements--simplifications--of pop songs.

Among my piano teaching books, I don't expect this from "Con" books.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.