Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Wants to Publish a Book of Campfire Songs

Dear Rich: I am interested in helping publish a songbook of campfire songs for use by traditional campfire groups (scouts, Indian princesses, and the like).  While some of these songs are in the public domain, others are not.  I understand that the performance of the songs by those groups may be a public performance (hat tip to the 1995-96 ASCAP/American Camping Association/Girl Scout flare up), but am more concerned about securing rights to publish the sheet music within the song book.  The book will be sold by a non-profit entity, but otherwise looks/feels like a commercial use. Is there a clearing house through which these sorts of rights may be secured?  My review of the ASCAP page indicates that they are more concerned with the public performance (or at least I cannot find a reference to sheet music publication).  Is there somewhere else I should be looking? Yes, you need to contact the music publishers (companies that own or administer the copyrights for songs) and seek permission directly. There may be agents who can acquire these rights for a fee (search for "music licensing agents") but there don't appear to be any clearance houses or licensing organizations that deal specifically with granting sheet music rights.
What good is ASCAP? ASCAP and BMI (ASCAP's main competitor) can't help you with getting the rights for reprinting sheet music. Those organizations are performance rights societies and grant rights for playing music live or broadcasting it over radio or TV. However, BMI and ASCAP, and their sibling organization, the Harry Fox Agency, (which grants rights for so-called mechanical licenses) are good for a related purpose -- they can provide you with the name, address and contact information for the music publisher who owns the rights. You can then contact the music publisher directly. Publishers differ as to their policies for sheet music reproduction. They often grant sheet music rights for a royalty (typically 10 to 15%) or for a flat fee if it is a limited reproduction (for example, 2,000 books). Of course, mention the nonprofit aspect of the effort (in the hopes that you can get a better deal), and be prepared to be flexible in your choice of campfire songs because in some cases, you may find the publisher non-responsive, or seeking fees beyond your budget.
Using Public Domain songs. We're all for the use of public domain campfire songs. In some cases, however, beware that individuals attempt to claim copyright on PD songs. We've written about the practice in a previous post and offer some suggestions on how to deal with that issue.

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