How do you determine copyright status if the date of the decease of the composer is unknown ?

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Zeyar Shwe
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How do you determine copyright status if the date of the decease of the composer is unknown ?

Postby Zeyar Shwe » Tue Oct 31, 2017 10:51 pm

I would be grateful if a copyright reviewer can explain to me how you determine whether a work is in PD or not if the compose's dates are unknown. I have uploaded scores that I myself did not know, relying on the expertise of the copyright reviewers, but I will be really grateful if you can kindly explain how you determine whether it is in PD or not. I am not taking about obvious 18th or 19 the century composers but composers who published their work in 1920, or 1930s.

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Re: How do you determine copyright status if the date of the decease of the composer is unknown ?

Postby cypressdome » Thu Nov 02, 2017 10:13 pm

how you determine whether a work is in PD or not if the compose's dates are unknown


Research, but there are many cases in which it has proven impossible to determine when a person has died (the determining factor for two of the three copyright jurisdictions that affects IMSLP--Canada and the E.U.). Sources such as MusicSack, viaf, Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon, BMLO as well as biographical dictionaries can be helpful. If a work was published in the U.S. it's copyright protection had to be renewed after 28 years and so the renewal volumes of the Catalog of Copyright Entries can be helpful. If an item was renewed it will often list who renewed it (the publisher for instance) and/or for whose benefit it was renewed (the composer's widow for instance). Also, by searching Worldcat for any works the composer published you can get a good feel for the earliest and latest dates during which he was active.

As long as the work was published before 1923 we can always move works of authors whose dates are unknown but who may have died less than 50 years ago to the U.S. server since it will be in the public domain in the U.S.

There may be an actual legal framework for determining when a work whose author's date of death cannot be determined enters the public domain but that goes beyond my knowledge. Carolus would be the one to answer that.

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Re: How do you determine copyright status if the date of the decease of the composer is unknown ?

Postby Zeyar Shwe » Thu Nov 02, 2017 10:24 pm

Thank you very much cypressdome. That was really informative. Yes, it would be interesting to hear from Carolus regarding the actual legal framework for determining when a work whose author's date of death cannot be determined enters the public domain

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Re: How do you determine copyright status if the date of the decease of the composer is unknown ?

Postby Carolus » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:13 am

Generally, if something was published in the 1920s or 1930s, one would logically assume that the composer was at least 20 years old or thereabouts. This is actually a case where the "before 1923" rule of the USA is fairly handy as things published before that year have a very high percentile of composers who died over 50 years ago. This percentile drops the more you move forward. With items published in the 1930s, composers born as late as the decade of 1910-1920 are involved, so the with a average lifespan of 70 years one can logically project death dates into the 1970-1990 range.

Under Canada's law, works with unknown authors (authors whose dates are unknown are functionally the same) fall under the shorter of the two possibilities:

1. 50 years from publication (published 1966 or before)
2. 75 years from creation. (created 1941 or before)


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