drum transcriptions and copyright, what's the legal status?

I have been thinking about putting some transcriptions online for other people's benefits (for free of course, and my own work of course), and I have been trying to figure out if it's legal to do so or not.

I have found a forum article referencing a law website about guitar tabs not being protected under fair use in the USA and basically being copyright infringement if not licensed, but what about drum tabs/transcriptions?

Are drum performances considered copyrighted the same way as a song's lyrics or melody? or are they somehow "less" protected? I'd think that there'd be no way a basic shuffle would be copyrighteable, but what about very recognizeable grooves that are integral to the song?

What about outside the USA? Canada? Europe? Australia? Note of course I think it should be legal to write tabs/transcriptions/youtube tutorials for songs, because in the end the more people play music the better, but given how things are nowadays where guitar lesson videos on youtube get routinely taken down for "infringement" I am wondering where drum transcriptions stand in the legal grand scheme of things.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Copyright only pertains to melody, harmony and lyrics, not rhythm.

It is impossible to copyright a drum part. So you can do what you want there.

Now, once a part is transcribed, you can copyright your writing. So if you put in a ton of work to transcribe a piece, and someone photo copied your pages, you could have a case (assuming you followed copyright rules). However, if someone else transcribed the same song, they can do whatever they want with it.
 
It is impossible to copyright a drum part. So you can do what you want there.
how would that apply to big band scores and/or other music with "composed" written-out drum parts?

What about exercise books where, say, drummer xyz has come up with an exercise and they play it, I doubt it'd be legal for you to transcribe the exercise and resell it... or in that case it would apply because it's not really part of a song? (note of course I think this wouldn't be good to do, just curious about what the law says)
 

Too Many Songs

Senior Member
Copyright only pertains to melody, harmony and lyrics, not rhythm.

It is impossible to copyright a drum part. So you can do what you want there.
I've heard this said a few times: in these forums and elsewhere. And I'm interested to learn the authority for this statement. Without wanting the discussion to get too formal can anyone name a case or statute which says this... any jurisdiction will do.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
how would that apply to big band scores and/or other music with "composed" written-out drum parts?

What about exercise books where, say, drummer xyz has come up with an exercise and they play it, I doubt it'd be legal for you to transcribe the exercise and resell it... or in that case it would apply because it's not really part of a song? (note of course I think this wouldn't be good to do, just curious about what the law says)
Doesn't change a thing. Rhythm is not part of copyright law.

Mallet or timpani where there is a pitch and a melody would be. But not drum set.

As for exercises, just go down to a music store and read through all the various drum books. So many of them have the same information. The print on the page is subject to copyright law, but drum part is not.

If drums could be subject to copyright law, every single drummer would be in debt to Zutty Singleton, Gene Krupa and Ringo Star for back royalties. Just look how many songs on the radio have the same drum beats.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Sorry DED but I don't think you are right here. I am happy to be proved wrong and that's why I asked for some authority for your statement.
Well, I am right.

To clear, if you record a drummer, the performance IS subject to copyright (with some restrictions), but the notes the drummer plays are not.

Or else every song with the bass drum on the 1 and 3, with the snare on 2 and 4 would be a copyright infringement on Dj Fontana or one of the other early rock drummers.
 

Too Many Songs

Senior Member
I think this confuses one or two bar rhythmic patterns (I agree no copyright) with a full drum part to a song (which is an original selection of both non-original patterns and original fills and patterns). The drum part to a song enjoys copyright and a transcription of the song would infringe. Just my view.
 
To clear, if you record a drummer, the performance IS subject to copyright (with some restrictions), but the notes the drummer plays are not.
on the other hand I am pretty sure that if I took Terry Bozzio's kit and played "Happy Birthday" on its toms I would be liable for infringement: where do you draw the line between rhythm and melody? What if I took the drum part and played it on the piano instead of the drums (same midi notes), would that be copyrighted instead?

I guess one could make a case for the bass as well, would bass tabs similarly not have any copyright issues since they are not "melody"? Plenty of cases where artist X will use bassline from song Y in a new song and nobody seems to care... could you take the bassline from "under pressure" and write a new song without paying Queen any royalties?
 
I think this confuses one or two bar rhythmic patterns (I agree no copyright) with a full drum part to a song (which is an original selection of both non-original patterns and original fills and patterns). The drum part to a song enjoys copyright and a transcription of the song would infringe. Just my view.
that is pretty much what I was wondering as well, it seems strange that I could transcribe a song and put it up somewhere without any sort of licensing or other agreement, I am sure that Hal Leonard and others need to get some rights for any drum transcription book they publish... or maybe not, I guess if anybody here has ever done for-hire transcription work for a publisher they might know for sure.
 

wsabol

Gold Member
DED is correct.

Kenny Clarke doesn't get a check every time someone records ding ding-ga-ding on the ride cymbal. Steve Gadd doesn't get a check every time someone covers his 50 ways groove. John Bonham doesn't get a check every time some records his triple fill thing.

I don't know the legal reason either, but I promise if it was possible, it would have been done already. Once a grooves comes out, i think it becomes more like a trade secret, rather than something truly unique that you can copyright.

It might be something that has been overlooked by the copyright lawyers, but in my opinion its for the better! I don't want to have to be restricted in the studio by fills and grooves that have not yet been copyrighted.
 
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brady

Platinum Member
What about exercise books where, say, drummer xyz has come up with an exercise and they play it, I doubt it'd be legal for you to transcribe the exercise and resell it... or in that case it would apply because it's not really part of a song? (note of course I think this wouldn't be good to do, just curious about what the law says)
I wonder how does that works with books with the same exercises in it? For example, from what I've seen of Carmine Appice's new book, it looks like a lot of it was lifted from 4 Way Coordination.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
on the other hand I am pretty sure that if I took Terry Bozzio's kit and played "Happy Birthday" on its toms I would be liable for infringement: where do you draw the line between rhythm and melody? What if I took the drum part and played it on the piano instead of the drums (same midi notes), would that be copyrighted instead?
If you're playing Happy Birthday, you're clearly playing a melody. Because now you have pitch.

Just because it's played on a percussion set doesn't change. After all, a marimba is a percussion instrument, but you can play clear melodies on it.



... could you take the bassline from "under pressure" and write a new song without paying Queen any royalties?
Well, Vanilla Ice did (eventually) pay Queen for doing so.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Here is an interesting article.

Click the link for the full article
http://www.alankorn.com/articles/copyright_infringe.html
Ultimately the test for infringement turns on the issue of quality, rather than quantity. For instance, in determining whether one song infringes on another, it is common for courts to look to whether the "heart" of the song was taken. The heart of a song may be a memorable melody, or an identifiable 2-chord guitar riff or just a few words taken from the chorus. As a result, there is NO truth to the rumor that sampling less than 4 bars is OK.

6. WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN IN THE REAL WORLD?

Even copyright scholar Melville Nimmer has observed that it is hard to apply copyright infringement analysis to popular music because almost all popular compositions bear some similarity to prior works. A successful pop song typically balances elements of familiarity and novelty, and pop songwriters frequently pay tribute to their peers and predecessors via allusion, pastiche and mimicry, making it difficult to determine exactly which elements in any given pop song are original. Also, most popular music derives from a variety of musical traditions. Rock and roll "borrows" extensively from black music, country music, folk and Tin Pan Alley. Rap music borrows heavily from funk, soul, dissonant jazz and the avant garde. Add to this the strong tradition of answer songs and parodies in the popular charts, with artists developing specific themes, ideas and melody patterns taken from earlier hit recordings and it's easy to see why copyright law has been criticized as too simplistic.
Notice no mention of rhythm.

On the other side, here is an article about James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield and his so far unsuccessful attempts to get paid for all the times he has been sampled. But notice, the issue is the use of Stubblefield's actually perfomance of drumming, not the notes.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/arts/music/clyde-stubblefield-a-drummer-aims-for-royalties.html
 
If you're playing Happy Birthday, you're clearly playing a melody. Because now you have pitch.

Just because it's played on a percussion set doesn't change. After all, a marimba is a percussion instrument, but you can play clear melodies on it.
given enough toms you can play clear melodies on a drumset too :)

And looking at things from the opposite way, I mean, you can copyright the melody of "one note samba" can't you? I don't see a lot of pitch changes in that song, it's all rhythm and it *is* copyrighted, so how does that work? you could pitch a tom to the right note of "one note samba" and play it with it, wouldn't that be infringing? (edit) I meant two toms, not one :)
 
Here is an interesting article.
thanks for the articles, sometimes it does seem that lyrics and melody are first class citizens while everything else is treated as very secondary, it's strange to me as so many songs would be so much worse if you took out the specific drum/bass/keys parts that make them great, and yet the drummer/keys/bass player is usually not going to benefit from royalties etc. Biggest case for me was the huge legal battle about "A Whiter shade of pale", I mean, take out the organ half the song is gone, and yet they had to go to court for a long time to solve that...
 
All this talk made me try to figure things out looking at the actual law, for example here in Canada

http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-42/page-9.html#h-9

nowhere in there I see any exceptions based on melody vs rhythm, it just talks about performance/performer, and "fixing" the performance by recording, which is/should be the same as transcribing I would think.

Note the Copyright Act talks about "performer's performance or substantial portion thereof", this is likely why it'd be impossible to copyright a groove or a fill that appear in a song, since they are way too short and a small portion of the song, but a complete transcription of a full song to me seems like it'd be infringing regardless of the instrument in question and you'd need to get "synchronization and transcription rights" from the copyright holder to be able to publish a transcription anywhere (whether or not it's for commercial use)
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
All this talk made me try to figure things out looking at the actual law, for example here in Canada

http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-42/page-9.html#h-9

nowhere in there I see any exceptions based on melody vs rhythm, it just talks about performance/performer, and "fixing" the performance by recording, which is/should be the same as transcribing I would think.

Note the Copyright Act talks about "performer's performance or substantial portion thereof", this is likely why it'd be impossible to copyright a groove or a fill that appear in a song, since they are way too short and a small portion of the song, but a complete transcription of a full song to me seems like it'd be infringing regardless of the instrument in question and you'd need to get "synchronization and transcription rights" from the copyright holder to be able to publish a transcription anywhere (whether or not it's for commercial use)
That is talking about the performance. If you record yourself playing drums, that recording can by copyrighted.

So if you record a drum track, put it on an album, and copyrighted the album, that performance of you playing falls under the law.

So if the next person comes along, buys your album, over dubs music on to it, and puts it out, then you would have a case under the "performer's performance" issue. This is what the Clyde Stubfield case is about. Although notice, even though it's clear he is being used, he's having a difficult time collecting any money or getting any credit.

But if someone else recorded themselves playing the same drum patterns, you would have no case, as it was not your performance.

A case in point:
The drums for "Stupid Girl" by Garbage
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HBxUWSxcq8

Is the same beat as The Clash "A Train In Vain"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hDeEIHlvwI

But it is not just the same drum beat, it's same actual drum track. And if you look in the liner notes for the Garbage album, the members of the Clash are credited (and get paid) because Garbage used the actual performance from the Clash song.

But the beat itself? It's beat #2 in Carmine Appice's Realistic Rock book, which came out in 1972. It's also been used on hundreds of different rock songs. It is also written on out in hundreds of different instructional books. But Garbage doesn't have to credit Carmine or anyone else, because the beat itself is not a copyright. Only the performance of said beat.
 
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