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A Fairy Story Revealed - Licensing and Copyrights

I got this email today from someone who didn't leave an email address to respond to. So I thought I'd post my response here:
"Just to let you guys know...quite a few of your songs are written, sang originally and copyrighted by a duo named Iris and Rose. Your site does not give them credit to them for writing or copyrighting the music... You might check out their site. I know for certain one is 'A Fairy Story'."
I am a huge fan of Iris and Rose. Just take a listen to my Renaissance Festival Podcast and you'll hear that. I own several of their albums and get new ones every chance I get. I also own the CD Bedtime Stories which is from which their recording comes.

So I checked it out. There are no credits listed on the CD or on the website as to who wrote the song. The reason for that is that to the best of my knowledge, I don't know WHO wrote the song. Andrew found the song from a tape from his sister, which also didn't have credits listed. We modified our version from that cassette.

On a different note, there is a difference, legally speaking, between copywriting a recording and copywriting a song. If Iris and Rose wrote "A Fairy Story", we would be paying royalties to them or at least obtain direct permission from them to record the song. We do that with "Irish Ballad" to Tom Lehrer, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" to Eric Idle, and numerous other songs from CDs other than A Faire to Remember. Unlike many musicians, particularly in the faire circuit, we consider it important to support songwriters by paying royalties where possible. However, anyone can record a song as long as they pay those royalties.

On the flip side, just because a musician recorded a song, does not mean they wrote the song. One of the most common mistakes with us is that we wrote "Do Virgins Taste Better/The Dragon's Retort". Those two songs are filks. They use the traditional tune "The Irish Washerwoman" with lyrics by Randy Farran and Claire Stephens McMurray, respectively. Again, we pay royalties to those authors for the use of their songs, even though they didn't ask us to!

However, if a song is in the public domain (pre-1927), then we don't have to pay royalties for the song. Or if the song author is unknown, we don't have to pay royalties unless that author can legally be determined.

In the case of Iris and Rose, to the best of my knowledge, most all of their songs are either public domain or anonymous authorship. Their recording is copyrighted, which is why I would need their permission to put their recording of a song on a CD, but I would not be required to pay royalties to them for if we recorded "A Fairy Story" or "Bring Me Some Whiskey" (another song who's author is unknown.

There are a LOT of adjustments and addendums that could be made, but I'm no lawyer. So that'll do for now. The long and the short of it is if you are unsure and want to protect your favorite artist, then drop them and email and ask them IF they wrote a song.

FYI. Two of the biggest songs of mistaken identity that I've heard at Renaissance festivals are (1) "Queen of All Argyle" and (2) "Rambling Rover". Both songs were written by Andy M. Stewart, formerly of Silly Wizard.

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--posted by Marc Gunn of the Brobdingnagian Bards, Celtic Folk Music
  Sunday, August 20, 2006


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