Tuesday, April 26, 2011

He Needs Poets' Permission for Choral Work

Dear Rich: I am a professional composer and I am looking to gain the text permissions from several authors for use in a commissioned choral composition I am writing. The author's works are found in a book entitled Earth Prayers, published by HarperCollins Publishers. The work I am writing has been commissioned by The Bucks County Choral Society. The authors are as follows; Wendell Berry, W. E. B. DuBois, Joyce Fossen, and Stephanie Kaza. I am comfortable with the fact that I may not be able to get any permissions from these authors. The DuBois permission I am sure would be through some estate. Since Berry is still alive and his poetry is widely published, he may deny permission as well. He may not even like music, though I cant imagine that. I just would like the chance to ask him. Joyce and Stephanie, I am not sure of. My initial research of their works online have yielded little results. The Dear Rich Staff wishes you well and hopes you don't run into the kind of problems faced by composer Eric Whiteacre (but if you do, there's always crowdsourcing). As for your permissions:
  • It's possible that some (if not all) works by W.E. DuBois (above) are in the public domain. DuBois lived from 1868 to 1963. Any works of his published before 1923 -- for example Darkwater: voices from within the veil (published in 1920) -- are in the public domain. And all works published before 1964 were subject to renewal; most works were not renewed. Many of DuBois' works written after 1923 have been the subject of multiple copyright claimants, a strong sign that these works are either in the public domain, or that nobody is pursuing rights. You can check these details further by searching Copyright Office records. 
  • Stephanie Kaza appears to retain copyright in her work, at least according to Copyright Office records. So, you could start your search for her by checking with her most recent publisher Shambhala. They published her recent (2005) work, Hooked! Buddhist writings on greed, desire and the urge to consume. 
  • We love Wendell Berry (especially his recent book, Remembering).You should probably start your search through his current publisher, Counterpoint, which maintains the Wendell Berry website.
  • We located Joyce Fossen in the Copyright Office records and if it is the poet you're seeking, she appears to have passed away in 1989. The copyright claimant for her work is a George J. Fossen and we imagine he would be the person to contact for permission (although we have no way of locating that information).