Copyright this Way

April 5, 2011 on 6:45 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, News, Pipe Bands, Solo Piping, Tips | 4 Comments

A week or so ago I led a talk at the annual judge’s meeting of the Pipers’ & Pipe Band Society of Ontario. The day’s always a good one. At the very least it’s a great gathering of old friends and acquaintances and at it’s best its a really insightful exchange of ideas and perspectives.

Anyway, my bit was a comparative look at pipe band ensemble. I checked out competitive orchestras – yes, they do compete – American high school concert bands and British brass bands. I learned a lot in my seeking out of information related to other competitive musical worlds. For instance, I can now tell you with great certainty that it’s scarily, freakishly and jaw-droppingly amazing how close the British brass band world mirrors that of the pipe band. Maybe a blab for another day.

But one of the biggest surprises, or “a-ha moment” is related to music copyright [here’s me grabbing the chance to poke fun at corporate jargon: for those not exposed to the lingo, an “a-ha moment” is what people in corporate meeting rooms everywhere, it seems, say when they learn something new].

I’ve always imagined myself pretty savvy when it comes to copyright. I’ve a pretty good understanding of my rights as a composer, a publisher and what needs to be done when I make a record. But I’d never thought much about the licensing of music when it came to the subject of live piping, or pipe band performance. We so easily bend to the path of least resistance – the way it’s always been done. Sometimes, anyway!

Other competitive musical worlds – like those mentioned here – slavishly follow the laws of copyright to the letter. All scores must be provided in advance of a contest. Proof of publisher’s permission to both reproduce scores (those scores provided to adjudicators) and perform non-public domain compositions live, must be given to event organizers. This requirement is provided plainly in the rules of entry – not talking fine print here – it is baseline info provided up-front on entry forms. Penalty points are assigned musical combos that fail to follow copyright rules.

When it comes to copyright generally and performance licensing specifically, the piping world and, especially, the pipe band world, well, like a stop sign in Italy, it’s viewed only as a suggestion.

What exactly am I talking about? Well, consider this from SOCAN, Canada’s performing rights organization (and there’s an agency for anyone in the world looking to be aligned with one). These agencies exist to help protect the intellectual rights of composers and help get them what they’re due. They collect licence fees, as set by their national or organizational copyright board, from anyone playing or broadcasting live or recorded music.

In Canada, according to the Copyright Act, any public performance of copyright-protected musical works requires a licence. The Copyright Act is law. So, when a song – or tune – gets played in public, music creators (not just the performers) are entitled to collect their licence fees. This is the way of things in most countries; certainly so in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, France, Italy – and the United Kingdom. The list does go on.

Not unlike high school concert bands competing in the United States, pipe bands pretty much everywhere, need to have publisher’s permission, or a publisher’s license, to perform a musical piece. All those ditties we play at pipe band contests the world over – the ones that are not seriously oldie-goldies, like Scotland the Brave, need a license.

Like it or not, without a license, we’re breaking the law.

And that is the truth.



  1. I never thought I’d live to see the day where bagpipers try and do everything they can to get money from their music. Sad.

    Comment by A-ha — April 9, 2011 #

  2. My intention in this post had nothing, really, to do with money and everything to do with helping people understand the law. M.

    Comment by Michael Grey — April 10, 2011 #

  3. I’m sorry A-ha, but I think that’s a very cynical, negative way in which to look at an informative piece. Although Michael is obviously a composer, I didn’t read anything into what he had to say about trying to make money from his work. Like many, I have spent most of my lifetime playing in bands and have never given this issue much of a thought. Thanks Michael, for looking into this and writing about it!
    – Stephen Matthews

    Comment by srmdrummer — April 11, 2011 #

  4. Thanks, Stephen – and a-ha. I think of lot of people out there, especially those who love bagpipe music, see the music and instrument as somehow sullied if money is brought into the music-making equation. It seems to me that if copyright laws are happily embraced and followed by those who make banjo, accordian and ukelele music, then those who make and promote bagpipe music should have no problem doing the same – without guilt. M.

    Comment by Michael Grey — April 12, 2011 #

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