About the Public Domain (P.D.)

by Harvey Reid

(This was originally printed in the CD booklet of Harvey's 1990 album of traditional music titles "Steel Drivin' Man")


You may have seen (P.D.) or (Trad.) on album covers and wondered what it meant. (Trad. is short for traditional). The U.S. Copyright, Patent and Trademark laws provide a period of ownership for creative works, inventions and product names, after which ownership is supposed to expire and pass into the Public Domain, which means that they are available for any use by anyone without threat of infringement lawsuits. However, law allows the copyright of an "arrangement" of a public domain work, and there are thousands of arrangements on file for well-known P.D. works, and it is unclear exactly what is privately or publicly owned.

ASCAP and BMI are private licensing organizations that monitor radio,TV, movie, restaurant, store & live performances of copyrighted music, and require users to pay yearly license fees to create a fund (now a yearly amount of about $320 million), from which royalty payments are made according to statistical samples of airplay and various calculations. If an arrangement of a public domain piece is sampled during such a survey, the copyright owner receives less money (about  1/5) than an original work.

Many of us feel that the current system is not ideal, for several reasons. It discriminates statistically in favor of major artists, since money is paid out based on very small samples, when the computer power exists to actually log airplay, as is done in many countries. It prevents popular artists and record companies from recording and disseminating traditional music because they will make a lot less royalty money, thus making it hard to find traditional music on mass media. (If you play your own songs on TV, you make a lot more money) There are also many songs (including some extremely well-known songs) that have traditional melodies, but that are registered as original music. The copyright owners receive royalty money for music that belongs to everyone. Many familiar songs that were learned as folk music or collected as folklore were copyrighted by folklorists and musicians in the 1920's and 1930's. Club owners and promoters who hire traditional music performers must pay license fees to ASCAP and BMI that are paid out based on sampling of radio airplay and thus tend to end up in the pockets of the rich rather than the actual authors of the music. (ASCAP samples public radio at a rate of .000066 or only 27.6 minutes a year per station!) Many of us feel that public domain music has been used for personal profit rather than to benefit the public, much like our public lands and resources, yet the system is set up such that there has never been legislation passed (except by irate states that tried to outlaw ASCAP and lost in federal court) by elected officials to regulate it.

For more information or suggestions as to what you might do to help our traditional arts, send a SASE to me c/o Woodpecker. I am currently researching the issues of public domain copyrights, and will gladly pass along my findings. Our national musical treasures must be cared for and remain available for all of us to enjoy, just like our natural resources and parks.

© 1993 by Harvey Reid

Harvey Reid has been a full-time acoustic guitar player, songwriter, traditional musician, and free-lance minstrel since 1974. He has recently released his 11th solo recording on Woodpecker Records. He lives in Southern Maine. He has written an extensive piece on ASCAP & BMI which is posted here.

For more information about the Public Domain, check out http://www.bright.net/~pdinfo and also Bob Katzmarek's extensive and interesting site at http://members.aol.com/Katzmarek


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phone (207) 363-1886


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Harvey Reid Concert Schedule |Harvey's Blog | About the Liberty Guitar Method|Catalog of CD's and Tapes|Discography|About this Web Site & What's New Here | Hot News | Woodpecker Home Page | About Harvey Reid |The Song Train | Video | Audio | About Joyce Andersen | Books by Harvey Reid | Say hello to us... | Concert & Record Reviews | Interviews with HR | Lyrics to Harvey Reid Songs | Harvey Reid Annual Newsletters | HR's Guitar Tunings | About the Partial Capo | Articles & Essays by HR | HR's Gear | HR's Favorite CD's | HR's Career History | Booking Info | Publicity Info & Download Files |


This web site concerns the music and life of acoustic musician & music educator Harvey Reid.

If you don't find what you want, or if you have comments or questions, please email to

WOODPECKER MULTIMEDIA
PO Box 815 York Maine 03909  USA
phone (207) 363-1886


About Harvey Reid Concert Schedule Catalog of Recordings
Lyrics Newest Recording Booking Information
Buy From Us Reviews Interviews
Say Hello to Us Newsletter Hot News
Harvey's Gear The Song Train About the Partial Capo
Articles & Essays Out of Print Music Books
Downloads Publicity Info Favorite CD's
What's Here Publicity Photos Guitar Tunings
About Joyce Andersen Lyrics History
Listen to Audio Say Hello to Us Listen to Audio
Lyrics Lyrics Listen to Audio

Harvey Reid Concert Schedule |Harvey's Blog | About the Liberty Guitar Method|Catalog of CD's and Tapes|Discography|About this Web Site & What's New Here | Hot News | Woodpecker Home Page | About Harvey Reid |The Song Train | Video | Audio | About Joyce Andersen | Books by Harvey Reid | Say hello to us... | Concert & Record Reviews | Interviews with HR | Lyrics to Harvey Reid Songs | Harvey Reid Annual Newsletters | HR's Guitar Tunings | About the Partial Capo | Articles & Essays by HR | HR's Gear | HR's Favorite CD's | HR's Career History | Booking Info | Publicity Info & Download Files |


This web site concerns the music and life of acoustic musician & music educator Harvey Reid.

If you don't find what you want, or if you have comments or questions, please email to