Copywriting drum parts

Caz

Senior Member
Hi all, does anyone know anything about copywriting drum parts in the UK? Is it the same as composition where you transcribe all the parts and then post it to yourself using special delivery to prove the date?

I have recorded drum parts for a band that I'm no longer in, then realised that I have no control now over what they do with the recording - i.e. if they sell it, don't credit me, or new drummers use my parts without permission etc. I don't think they're the kind of people who'd do this, but for security in similar situations when getting involved with more professional bands I'd like to know where drummers stand. I don't really mind new drummers using the parts I've written, but I'd like to know that I have a bit of control over the use of such parts - i.e. if a new drummer was to re-record using these parts on a more professional recording which is then released. It only seems fair that the legal system allows me to be creditted for such use since I spent time thinking out parts and trying to put creative ideas into the tunes.

Has anyone been in this situation and do you have any advice?

Thanks, Caz.
 

Paul Quin

Pioneer Member
Caz:

You need to consult an attorney in the UK. If you need a reference for one let me know and I will send you the name and contact details of the guy I collaborate with. Copyright law in the UK is very similar to here in the US but there are some nuances in the UK with which I am not very familiar. Here in the US, there is no way through copyright that you can achive what you want. As general rule you can only copyright lyrics, melody and general chord structure. The only way you can obtain the interest you want is to do so by contract with the band members. That would give you a contractual right to enforce your interests in the song. These things need to be addressed on the front end, as the actual writer of the melody and lyrics could copyright the song, receive all royalties, not give you a penny and not have done anything wrong (at least under the law - lets leave morality for another discussion).

There are ways you could obtain compensation through litigation in the absence of a contract (through theories of prommissory estoppel), but you would spend far more than you recovered because all you could sue for would be for playing on the song and spending $10,000 to recover $300 doesn't make much sense!

I strongly suggest you make a call to a UK attorney and see what you can sort out.

Paul
 

TTNW

Pioneer Member
Everything that Paul has posted is quite true and his advice to consult a UK attorney is wise because there are many variations to copyright laws in all countries that have them and the interpretation of those laws can vary.

One caveat to the issue of drumming and copyrights:

If you write drum parts that are fully transcribed and then assign note values to those parts, much the same way Terry Bozzio does with his complex compositions, you can copyright this material. You will have much better protection under the law even if the parts are only reproduced as non melodic drumming. It establishes an originator to the art and lends weight to any argument that you may have been damaged by another's use of your work without your permission.

There is not very much case law to bolster this method of protecting rights to drumming compositions but adding a melody to those parts helps you associate your work to already established wording in the law as it is written.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
In general, rhythms don't fall under any copywrite laws.

And it's somewhat pointless to copywrite a drum beat, as there are 1001 drums books out there that have almost every drum beat one could play in it. If someone were to sue over copywrite infringement over a drum part, it would be an easy defense to point out book or other recordings that had similar beats and/or fills.

I recall there was a brief blurb in the news some years back that someone wanted to sue Modanna because one of her songs had the same beat as some other song, I just yelled at the TV "that's page 3 of the Carmine Appice book."

Going forward, it's best to get these sort of things sorted out in advance of a recording, as to whom will own what and will get any credit.
 

Skitch

Pioneer Member
In general, rhythms don't fall under any copywrite laws.

And it's somewhat pointless to copywrite a drum beat, as there are 1001 drums books out there that have almost every drum beat one could play in it. If someone were to sue over copywrite infringement over a drum part, it would be an easy defense to point out book or other recordings that had similar beats and/or fills.

I recall there was a brief blurb in the news some years back that someone wanted to sue Modanna because one of her songs had the same beat as some other song, I just yelled at the TV "that's page 3 of the Carmine Appice book."

Going forward, it's best to get these sort of things sorted out in advance of a recording, as to whom will own what and will get any credit.
As far as I know, drumming falls under troubadorian domain and can't be copyrighted. The only parts of a song that can be copyrighted in the United States are the lyrics and the melody line.


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Pollyanna

Platinum Member
I expect Australian laws would be similar to those in the US and the UK.

You can use another artist's ideas as long as it's not considered to be a substantial or distictive part of the original piece. It would be interesting to see how things panned out if a drummer used especially drum parts such as Ringo's hat/tom line during the verses of Come Together or the beat from The Knack's My Sharona.

No copyright argy bargy seemed to happen (correct me if I'm wrong) when Cozy Powell used the melody from Jimi's Third Stone From The Sun (1967) in his Dance with the Devil hit (1973), and then Boney M used the drum parts of Cozy's hit in Nighflight to Venus (1978).

After the "My Sweet Lord" lawsuit George Harris had this to say:

This song has nothing tricky about it
This song ain't black or white and as far as I know
Don't infringe on anyone's copyright, so . . .

This song we'll let be
This song is in E
This song is for you and . . .

This tune has nothing bright about it
This tune ain't bad or good and come what may
My expert tells me it's okay

As this song came to me
Quite unknowingly
This song could be you could be . . .

This riff ain't trying to win gold medals
This riff ain't hip or square
Well done or rare
May end up one more weight to bear

But this song could well be
A reason to see - that
Without you there's no point to . . . this song​

Has anyone who's written a song NOT come up with a melody or chord progression and then later found out that another song written beforehand had the same lines? It's a mine field.
 

Naigewron

Platinum Member
You may be able to gain some control over the actual recording you played on, but I can't imagine there's any way you can stop another drummer from playing it note-for-note if he so chooses.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
You may be able to gain some control over the actual recording you played on, but I can't imagine there's any way you can stop another drummer from playing it note-for-note if he so chooses.
Naigewron, if a drummer ripped off the Come Together line surely there'd at least theoretically be a case? The line is such a distinctive and important part of the song.

The chances of a number based on that pattern being successful enough for Ringo to worry about it is another matter. Can't see it. But if instead of Ringo it was some hasbeen who'd squandered his wealth ... ?

This is an interesting article: Something Borrowed, New Yorker. It starts off talking about movies but if you do a page search for "1992" you'll get to where he talks about music.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Has anyone who's written a song NOT come up with a melody or chord progression and then later found out that another song written beforehand had the same lines? It's a mine field.
It can be, and it does happen.

The fact is there are only 12 notes. Most rock/pop songs are based on 3 or 4 chords, and a large number of songs are all based on the same 3 or 4 chord progression.

Here is a very funny video on about 36 popular songs all based on the same 4 chords:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4_f6pfabQk

Some times lawsuits happen.
Huey Lewis won a suit because the keyboard line in "I Want a New Drug" is the same keyboard line in "Ghostbusters"

The most hilarious one was John Forgerty's old record company sued him because his new records on a different label had the same sound and style as his old records. John won the case.

Other times, artists are aware, but don't pursue it. I forget the songs, but there was something about someone copied part of Tom Petty song, and Tom basically said he didn't care enough about it to sue over it.

But when it comes to drum parts, it's not an issue. The law doesn't cover drum parts.

If drums could be copywritten, everyone on this board would be in massive debt for payments owed to Ringo, Krupa, etc..
 

Caz

Senior Member
Hey thanks for all your replies... wow that situation really sucks!

In the particular band I mentioned I did actually co-write all the songs so that sounds like I'd have some input in what happens - but I don't think I'll have any issues with them as they're all cool people and hopefully wouldn't take the piss. In that situation I've already given partial permission for a new drummer to learn my parts (and I'd even participate in teaching them) but I want to make a point that it's not 100% explicit - that it's my work and if the situation should change from being just playing those parts at badly paid local gigs then I'd deserve to at least get credited as the writer of those parts. Sounds like that's not going to happen under the law regarding the drum tracks!

It did get me thinking about other bands where I've sat for hours writing out creative drum parts (for songs which have "already" been written) and practicing them to death to record... I think that's really bad that those parts and creative input aren't classed as worth copywriting. I don't think that all possibilities on drums have been covered at all and there's still plenty of scope for new additions to the art form, which should be treated as such! In the band I've mentioned above I played some of the parts with mallets on the toms - I wonder if that'd class as "real music" just because it sounds remotely timpani-like. What a rubbish way to treat drummers!

ps I do kind of see the point in that many beats get played over and over again by millions of people... just like pretty much every jazz standard has a 2, 5, 1 chord progression... but the subtleties in those melodies and progressions are given artistic merit so why shouldn't drum tracks be? Especially if they are completely original like the Black Page?! Guess I'll never convince a dury that... ah well. Anyway this is mostly a theoretical query, I'm not planning on suing anyone at any point soon :)
 

Skitch

Pioneer Member
But when it comes to drum parts, it's not an issue. The law doesn't cover drum parts.

If drums could be copywritten, everyone on this board would be in massive debt for payments owed to Ringo, Krupa, etc..
Kind of what I said earlier, maybe a little clearer.


Mike

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Pollyanna

Platinum Member
ps I do kind of see the point in that many beats get played over and over again by millions of people... just like pretty much every jazz standard has a 2, 5, 1 chord progression... but the subtleties in those melodies and progressions are given artistic merit so why shouldn't drum tracks be? Especially if they are completely original like the Black Page?! Guess I'll never convince a dury that... ah well. Anyway this is mostly a theoretical query, I'm not planning on suing anyone at any point soon :)
Actually, the subtleties are not covered. The laws use words like "substantial" and "distinctive". There's might be some overlap between those ideas and "subtle" or "nuance" but very little IMO.

If huge chunks of the Black Page drum part were used, you'd expect the music that went with it would be very much like the original, at least rhythmically. So that may well already make it a lawsuit possibility. If, say, someone layered a slow keyboard wash over parts of the Black Page drum part without much reference to the rhythm or the original then I reckon that would be worth it for Terry to see his lawyer - if by some miracle the song sold in significant numbers.

Paul might correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think rhythm is specifically excluded in the legislation, just that the vast majority of big selling songs have fairly simple 4/4 beats and most have been done to death. As mentioned earlier, songs with small sales won't be worth the lawsuit, unless someone's hot about the principle or worried about future sampling royalties.
 

rootheart

Senior Member
If drumparts can not be copyrighted, so what about transcriptions? I once transcriped the drumparts of more than 200 songs, for my own usage, and I would like to share or publish them. Would this offend copyright law?
 

TTNW

Pioneer Member
If drumparts can not be copyrighted, so what about transcriptions? I once transcriped the drumparts of more than 200 songs, for my own usage, and I would like to share or publish them. Would this offend copyright law?
In the US, publishing drum transcriptions would not violate any copyright laws pertaining to the melody and lyrics of the songs.
 

Paul Quin

Pioneer Member
Actually, the subtleties are not covered. The laws use words like "substantial" and "distinctive". There's might be some overlap between those ideas and "subtle" or "nuance" but very little IMO.

If huge chunks of the Black Page drum part were used, you'd expect the music that went with it would be very much like the original, at least rhythmically. So that may well already make it a lawsuit possibility. If, say, someone layered a slow keyboard wash over parts of the Black Page drum part without much reference to the rhythm or the original then I reckon that would be worth it for Terry to see his lawyer - if by some miracle the song sold in significant numbers.

Paul might correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think rhythm is specifically excluded in the legislation, just that the vast majority of big selling songs have fairly simple 4/4 beats and most have been done to death. As mentioned earlier, songs with small sales won't be worth the lawsuit, unless someone's hot about the principle or worried about future sampling royalties.

Pollyanna: you are right that rhythm is not mentioned in the statute. However, there is sometimes equal significance under the law in not mentioning something. It is clear under US copyright law that you cannot copyright drum parts unless, the drums add something so significant as to be an essential element of the melody. Off the top of my head I cannot think of any occasion where such a claim has been successful. Even if you think of songs like "50 Ways" there is no writing credit for Gadd. There was some discussion some years ago about "When the Levee Breaks" but frankly I don't remember what came of it. In regard to the Black Page, my understanding is that the part was written by Frank Zappa and Terry was just the first guy who could play it. Terry is in Japan right now and gets back in the beginning of December. I will ask him when he returns - after all he should speak to one of his lawyers every now and again!

This question was recently asked of me by a reader for Modern Drummer and I think next month's copy will have my answer in the "It's Questionable" section.

This is a link to a Roundtabe discussion I did last February which addresses some of these issues and some of the inequities involved. With me are Terry, Jonathon Moffitt and Danny Seraphine:

http://www.drumchannel.com/entertainment/Drumming-and-The-Law-Paul-Quin-Roundtable-47827.aspx

Hope this is useful!

Paul
 
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DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Even if you think of songs like "50 Ways" there is no writing credit for Gadd.
That is another things I was going to add. I was discussing song writing with an experienced and reputable producer, and he pointed out that adding parts to an existing song isn't actually writing, it's considered arranging.

So yes, even if one us spends hours coming up with the most imaginative drum part possible for a song someone else wrote, it's still a song someone else wrote, and the adding of the drum part is merely an arrangement of the song, not additional writing. Same as if you suggest the first verse be cut in half and double the the last chorus; while you've changed the song, that is not considered writing.

Which makes sense when you think of it in terms of when a big band does an arrangement of a jazz standard, or a band does a cover of a Beatles tune that is vastly different than the original; there is no new writing credit given, the original writer(s) are still the only credited writer(s), no one can add their themselves on to writing credits just because they came with a new way to play the song.




. In regard to the Black Page, my understanding is that the part was written by Frank Zappa and Terry was just the first guy who could play it.l
This is true. Frank wrote it, and thus any copywrite issues would be with Frank's estate, not Terry.
....

Of course, some bands split song writing credits evenly to all band members, regardless of who did the actual writing, just to avoid arguments, and to let everyone get paid for their 2 cents. The Doors and Van Halen come to mind who've done that.

Other bands don't, and have considerable tension between members over the years due because the song writers make more money in publishing than the non song writers. See Pink Floyd, the Who, Triumph.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Ah, brain was not engaged. Of course FZ wrote it. Let's say Ringo's part in Come Together then.

My understanding is that arrangements can be covered by copyright too but the line between composing and arranging is not clear.
 

Caz

Senior Member
Yeah Zappa wrote it.... in my head it seems completely obvious that a composition such as the black page should be taken as seriously by the law as a solo guitar composition. But yeah it's understandable how it's such a grey area of the law. There are still a couple of things confusing me... like if you add drums to a pre-composed song, do you have to transcribe them and then copywrite them for them to be treated as an arrangement (like the songwriter would have the do for the chords/lyrics etc for the original tune)? If anyone finds out any set answers for this stuff in the UK it'd be really great if you could share.. It'd be a shame to see anyone get stung by rules which we don't even know exist.

Thanks for your link Paul Quin - it's not working on my computer right now but I'll check it out later from another computer.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
It's rhythmism ... like musical racism :)

It's tempting to wonder what's so special about melodies given that Rhythms give a lot of joy too.

I guess rhythm comes across as more generic than melody. We have shuffle beats, money beat, cha cha etc but melodies don't seem to come in categories like that (do they?)
 

mrchattr

Gold Member
It's rhythmism ... like musical racism :)

It's tempting to wonder what's so special about melodies given that Rhythms give a lot of joy too.

I guess rhythm comes across as more generic than melody. We have shuffle beats, money beat, cha cha etc but melodies don't seem to come in categories like that (do they?)
No, they don't. The fact is that, even though there are only 12 notes, if you put those same notes in the same sequence as another song, it's an infringment of copyright law. I'm not sure how long the clip needs to be exactly the same, I think it's actually the whole song. The fact is, while it sucks that we can't copyright our really original parts (I just wrote a very cool part for an original tune of an artist I play with, I don't think it's ever been done before), it also gives us the ability to play exactly the same beat as is heard in another song, which is very helpful given that, if we couldn't, we wouldn't be able to play any of those basic beats you mentioned any more, without paying royalties. It would get expensive to have to pay every time we play a basic rock beat, for instance.

With that said, copyright ownership of the song is determined by the band/songwriter. In the song I mentioned above, for being so instrumental in the arrangement, etc, I have a percentage of the copyright, and a percentage of the songwriter ownership in ASCAP, so I get a percentage. That's something I worked out with the artist ahead of time, though. It's rare that a drummer can swing that, but if they do, it can be great for them.
 
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