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On Photocopies and Copyright

The culture of photocopying without concern for the composer, arranger or publisher of the music is rife in Ireland – and has thwarted many careers in creative musicianship. To learn by ear from the community of music-makers was the traditional way to learn the music. If you are learning in the ‘new way’ assisted by notes on a page, or are playing a desired ready-made arrangement, these were generated by somebody, and that somebody is entitled to be recompensed for their product. If the page was originally generated by the teacher for the student, of course this is your ‘lesson support material’ and the teacher is the originator. The student is not at liberty to pass this to others, or to use it themselves as teaching material in the future without the expressed permission of the originator – unless the material is published and available for purchase for the purpose. Informal materials may be passed on with the original teacher’s permission, but if the material is published, it must be purchased. This is common sense – as, with the music itself, it is the tune that is freely given from the tradition and not the arrangement. (Beware of newly composed pieces that while sounding ‘traditional’ are not - such as the tunes: ‘Inis Oirr’ (T.Walsh) or ‘Mná na hÉireann’ (S. O Riada) that are copyright – and many legal cases have been taken regarding these tunes).

With harp music, while most tunes that are played are traditional (with attributed composers such as Carolan or Connellan), the tradition gifts the melodies only, not arrangements. The aim of all Irish harp players (unless choosing to be as classical musicians) is to create their own arrangements of everything from a jig or reel and slow air, to a planxty, folk or hymn tune. The expectation is that, unless expressly acknowledged, the arrangements played are your own. It is a real tragedy that so many arrangers are being abused by unscrupulous others who are presuming to use their arrangements without acknowledgement - or payment.

Photocopying is also a gigantic problem for us arrangers – and publishers! For anyone to presume to photocopy pages from a book for their or anybody else’s use, is obviously not valuing the skill and expense to produce it in the first instance. This culture needs to change – if only to show integrity, respect and honesty. There are indeed Copyright Laws that were enacted to protect the rights of composers and arrangers, but in Ireland, cases are rarely taken against harp players and teachers. But, beware! Irish arrangers and publishers are now numerous, and more of them are aware of their rights. Each year, there are more cases being dealt with my IMRO (the Irish Music Rights Organisation) on behalf of Irish artists.

So, if you ask a teacher or a friend to photocopy a page of their music books for you, expect to be advised to buy it for yourself. It would be no different from asking someone for an illegal CD to be copied for your use. It is illegal, plain and simple! Most track downloads don’t cost more than €1, most music downloads cost the same – and most books cost less than a new CD – so the prices are small for the learning or pleasure they will bring. I often hear the protest: “But, I just wanted one or two tunes from the book”….. But if the book contains 10 tunes and you only wanted one, you still get 9 more! Like a ‘set of tools’ – if they are being sold as a set, you are not at liberty to buy only one component at a fraction of the price. Most pieces are available as single downloads from the web now – so often there is no excuse for not paying your 80cents.

If you buy a book of music, like a CD, you have also bought the right to play the music contained in it. If you perform this music for financial gain, as in a gig, broadcast, in a concert or a commercial recording, you will be required to write the title, the composer’s and arranger’s name on your ‘playlist’ or ‘PRS return’. Very simple! And, it is not you who pays the license fee, it is the concert house or the music publisher who pays. So, there is little excuse not to do the right thing – observing the right of the composer or arranger, or teacher materials to the recompense for their contribution to your learning and enjoyment. You wouldn’t go into a shop, and order a coffee; sit down and enjoy it and not expect to pay! So, please don’t give your music teacher a bad time if they require you to ‘go buy the book’ and refuse to give you a photocopy!