Thursday, February 23, 2012

Can We Arrange Elvis Songs?

Dear Rich: I’m planning to create an arrangement of Elvis Presley tunes for string quartet. Do I need permission to just use these arrangements for my own string quartet? What if I want to sell the arrangements to others? We love your idea (and others like it, too). You're probably okay arranging and performing a few Elvis songs for private performances. That's because the owners of the music are unlikely to notice (or to care if they do find out). If you plan to perform the music, publicly, the venue would need to pay for public performance royalties (sidebar on right under U.S. copyright law). If you were to record and release the music, you'd need to pay mechanical royalties.
What if you want to do more? You will need permission if you plan on promoting sales or distribution of sheet music arrangements to other quartets (or seek to stop others who copied your arrangement). That's because the making of sheet music requires authorization whether it is a straight reproduction of the sheet music or an “arrangement” or “orchestration” that qualifies as a derivative work. In other words, you can't reproduce the underlying work -- for example, Heartbreak Hotel -- in a printed arrangement, without the publisher's permission. You can usually find the music publisher’s contact information at the following sites: Harry Fox, BMI, ASCAP, or Limelight. Also, the National Association for Music Education website has an example of a request form for permission to create musical arrangements.