Nick Drake sheet music
August 31, 2018 6:45 PM   Subscribe

I am currently scoring "Leaving Me Behind" by Nick Drake using MuseScore, having been unable to find sheet music for it. I see guitar tabs, like here and here, but no sheet music. If I were to make this publicly available (for free) when I'm finished, would I be violating any copyrights?
posted by falsedmitri to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
My view is that you are not copying, you are creating new scores and arrangements. So you’re fine, you can’t run afoul of copyright law if you are not copying, and here you seem to be creating your own work.

However this all depends on jurisdiction and where the song was recorded and where you want to release your arrangement or scores.

Opinions will vary: Unfortunately the main test of whether you are within your rights in the USA only comes after an issue has gone to court.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:27 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: >>you are creating new scores and arrangements
I think this is the logic used for guitar tabs (like those I have linked to)

I am in the U.S. I would post it on the internet, like maybe on metafilter (if they don't protest) or on reddit.
posted by falsedmitri at 7:46 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think if it's your own arrangement, you're not trying to sell it or make money off it, you clearly state that it's only for personal use, and you post it somewhere like on the MuseScore site, you wouldn't have any trouble.

IIRC, I'm thinking of finally making the switch to MuseScore from Noteworthy Composer for the pieces im arranging for the end of October. Has.MuseScore worked out well for you?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:09 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am not a copyright lawyer.

But yes, you would be violating copyright. More info on UK Copyright Law, particularly Section 6 (duration of copyright - 70 years from the death of the creator, and Nick Drake died in 1974 so yeah) and Section 7 (restricted acts, which include adaptations of the work).

Are you likely to be prosecuted? I have no idea. But if you were, I do not think you would have much of a leg to stand on. You could always seek permission from the copyright holder - I don't know who that is in this case, and researching that kind of thing can be tricky. He signed to Island Records so that could be one avenue to pursue.

Also, be aware that something which is legal under the copyright law of one country does not necessarily remain legal everywhere - so even if what you are doing is legal under US copyright law, it's pretty clearly not under UK copyright law, and wouldn't be under Australian either. Or possibly others. I just know most about Australian.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:21 PM on August 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also, because I just answered another copyright question earlier this week in which several people seemed to think that copyright doesn't apply if you are not deriving financial gain from its violation, that is not the case. It is still a violation.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:25 PM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think sheet music was the thing that music copyright originally protected against.
posted by thelonius at 8:58 AM on September 1, 2018

Best answer: IANAL.

Copyright FAQ's from the Music Teachers National Association:

"May I make a new arrangement of copyrighted musical work without violating the copyright

No. Under U.S. Copyright Law, the making of a new arrangement of a copyrighted musical composition would be considered a “derivative work.” A derivative work is work based on or derived from another copyrighted work. As such, the right to make a derivative work is exclusively held by the copyright owner. Therefore, you could only make a new arrangement of a copyrighted work with the permission of the original copyright holder.

If I make a new arrangement of a copyrighted song with the permission of the composer, may I claim a copyright on the new arrangement

If you have been given the permission by the copyright owner of a musical work to make a new arrangement, that new arrangement will receive copyright protection. Again, however, copyright protection would not be extended to the new arrangement unless the permission of the original copyright holder was provided. If requesting permission from the original copyright holder, it is critical to obtain that permission in writing so it can later be documented."

Section 101 of US copyright law: "Definitions" (from

"A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”." (bolding mine)

Copyright Registration of Derivative Works Circular from US Copyright Office (pdf)

IOW, as I understand this, your new arrangement/score is copyrightable by you, and as the owner of that arrangement you can choose to distribute it however you want. The wrinkle is that you're creating a work derived from a copyrighted work, and as such you need permission from the copyright owners of the original composition - in this case, most likely, a publishing company and/or the executors of Drake's estate.

Currently the most common way for finding the publishers/copyright owners of a song is through the Harry Fox Agency, who run a publicly searchable database of songs & artists through the SongFile website (scroll down to the bottom.) I don't believe you would actually license the song for your purpose through Harry Fox, but you can at least get a name of the publishing company.

>>you are creating new scores and arrangements
I think this is the logic used for guitar tabs (like those I have linked to)

One thing about US copyright law is that, unlike trademarks, ownership doesn't have to be "defended" - a copyright is owned until sold or time runs out whether the owner chooses to enforce it or not. Which in practice seems to mean that copyright owners can pick and choose when or if to go after copyright violations at will. So the existence of free online guitar tabs or even other musical scores is not necessarily a sign that they are legit or that the copyright owners are OK with their existence. They may not know they exist, they may not think chasing down guitar tab violations is worth the bother, they may not have gotten around to sending out cease and desist letters yet, whatever, but that doesn't prevent them from going after someone else (you) for copyright violation, and I'm pretty sure "someone else put out free guitar tabs for this song" would not be much of a defense. So unless you get permission from the copyright owner, this would be a "proceed at your own risk" kind of situation.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:11 AM on September 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, while ubiquity of massive user-made tab sharing sites does not defend the rights and strict legality of such endeavors, it does give good evidence for the fact that amateur not-for-profit arrangements are generally not considered high risk for incurring legal battles and damages sought.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:05 PM on September 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

« Older Background check on rapist - if and how   |   How to migrate SMS, MMS, call history from Android... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.