Research Paper Number
copyright; music; sheet music; scores; Canada
Modern sheet music publishers regularly assert copyright claims over their new editions of public domain compositions by long-deceased composers like Mozart and Chopin, yet the legal basis for these claims remains untested. This inquiry argues that most such claims are untenable, and outlines a doctrinal copyright analysis supporting this conclusion in Canadian law and jurisprudence. Following a brief overview of the sheet music publishing industry’s copyright practices and some recent challenges to its preferred status quo, two doctrinal approaches are tested using various editions of Frédéric Chopin’s “Raindrop Prelude”. First, an application of the doctrine of originality, as described in CCH v. Law Society of Upper Canada, reveals that editors’ original expression in most new editions of public domain compositions is difficult to discern. Although some editions meet the required standard, this finding nonetheless jeopardizes many publishers’ copyright claims. Second, the inquiry briefly investigates the nature of musical scores as works, concluding that, contrary to what publishers have sometimes argued, a proper application of the Copyright Act should classify them as musical works instead of artistic works. Finally, the findings of the court in the British case Sawkins v. Hyperion are applied to the Canadian context. The article concludes by discussing some of the policy implications of its findings, contrasting the benefits accruing to musicians with the potentially harmful decisions that some music publishers might make if the Canadian standard were adopted more widely.
Laroche, Guillaume, "Settling the Score: Copyright in Modern Editions of Public Domain Musical Works" (2014). Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper Series. 80.
View the research paper on SSRN here.