On Seeking Permission
Published online: 1 October 1989
- PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40373960
Dear Professor Komar,
Enclosed is a copy of the revised article; in addition to incorporating the revisions you suggested, I've made a few others.
Permissions . . . the saga continues! One would think that with fairly recent and frequently performed material, this would be a relatively straightforward matter, but corporate trading and raiding seems completely to have muddied the waters. On "Summertime": calls to Gershwin scholars Wayne Schneider and Wayne Shirley unearthed the name of an official at Warner/Chappell Music in LA. I called the official's secretary, and have faxed him a request for permission to reprint text and an improvised solo based on the tune. At Columbia, however, a different story insofar as rights to Joplin's performance are concerned. After three transatlantic calls and two transfers (one to a happy, upbeat taped message that left me feeling only a trifle irked), I finally got through to an anonymous secretary who said that CBS and Columbia records have nothing to do with permissions for publishing transcripts of performances on their discs; it was not necessary, she claimed, to get permission from Columbia Records to print music appearing on a Columbia recording.
On "From Me To You": would you like to know who owns it? Indeed; and so would I. But no one seems to know for sure. The whole story is positively Kafkaesque: I call a librarian friend of mine at the National Sound Archive in London, who reports that Northern Songs (original owners) was bought by SBK Songs. (SBK, wouldn't you know, stands for Sugar, Beetroot, Karrot; the sixties endure.) I call SBK in London, and am told that most (but not all) of SBK's library has been bought either by EMI or by Michael Jackson. "FMTY", however, was apparently not part of either of these transfers, and its American rights are still owned by SBK's New York affiliate. I call the New York affiliate—not so, they say; we don't own it and we don't know who does—try BMI. I try BMI's index service in NY; they tell me "FMTY" is owned by Gil Music Corp. in NY. I call the number BMI gives me for Gil; this turns out to be an answering service for a company called GPS Music. The answering service can't promise that my call will be returned, as they don't normally get transatlantic calls. I go back to BMI, to see if by chance they have made a mistake. This time, BMI tells me to call Performing Rights Society in London, and kindly gives me their telephone. (I'm not making this up, you know, as Anna Russell says of her version of the Ring.) What does PRS say? that the copyright is owned by Northern Songs and that I should call—you guessed it—SBK songs in London for permission. (Why is it that musicians can't do anything without returning to the point at which they started?) And here is the punchline: on the very same day that I call SBK and receive a secretary's assurance that because "FMTY" shows up on their computer list, she is certain that they must own the rights to it, in spite of the previous denial, I get a fax from Gil Music Corp. saying yes, they publish "From Me To You" and are happy to grant me permission to print my transcription.
At the end of all this, I felt rather as if I had qualified for a slot in the cast of a new series of Mission Impossible shows. ("Your mission, Paul, should you decide to accept it, is to determine who owns the copyright of "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini"; as always, should you be discovered, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your activities. This tape, along with the entire ASCAP and BMI archives, will self-destruct in 5 seconds. Good luck.") Just what I need: a mission to get permission.
In any event, I'll keep you posted. It will be instructive to see what the fruits of all these labors turn out to be.
PAUL S. MACHLIN
Last modified on Tuesday, 23/10/2018