February 28, 1999

Copy wrong


Why is it that pipers and drummers traditionally rip off each other? We’re not talking about stealing instruments or kilts or reeds; we’re thinking of the disrespect we pay to each other when it comes to tunes, arrangements, and royalties.

Pipers and drummers are generally eager—often overly so—simply to make a CD or put out a book of music. Getting one’s name and content out, generally, is foremost, and any royalties are usually considered a bonus. As a result, perhaps, it’s not unknown to see recording companies and publishers take advantage of the remarkably passionate nature of pipers and drummers.

Ever since Xerographic was bought up and successfully merchandized by Xerox in the 1950s, the photocopying of tunes straight from books has been common. Today, with electronic publishing and communications so prevalent and easy, pipers and drummers routinely exchange electronic files of scores. The person to whom copyright belongs today more than ever is cheated out of their deserved royalties.

John McLellan, DCM, Dunoon, wrote the tune that’s now known as “Road to the Isles” back in the early 1900s. After his death, McLellan’s estate never retained copyright to his music, and thus the thousands of pounds in due royalties never made it to them. The popularity of “Road to the Isles” goes well beyond piping. Jock McLellan no doubt would be pleased to know his composition is still well loved, but it’s a shame that his estate does not receive its fair due.

A more modern example is Neil Dickie’s “Clumsy Lover,” arguably the most played pipe tune written in the last fifty years. Like “Road to the Isles,” the tune’s popularity extends into many other genres outside of piping. And, like McLellan, Dickie is constantly cheated out of his fair compensation in royalties. Although the tune’s copyright is legally registered with him, “The Clumsy Lover”’s composer credit is more often than not listed as “traditional” on the numerous major folk recordings, including the fiddler Ashley MacIsaac’s extremely popular projects.

Some recording companies and publishers must continue to think, “It’s only some pipe tune,” and pocket due profits. There are frequent cases of so-called “piping record companies” that randomly put their stamp of copyright ownership after original tunes without any legal agreement. Allegedly, these self-proclaimed “friends of piping and drumming” rake in these additional revenues from royalties.

Instead of standing for our rights and challenging these companies, the pipers and drummers who appear to be cheated simply come back to these companies, cap in hand, hoping they can do their next recording or book of music. They are too often led by their raw passion for their music, their vanity, or their ego, rather than what is true, fair, and honest for our integrity and future as serious musicians.

Pipers and drummers using music typesetting software like “Bagpipe Music Writer,” “Piob Mhor,” and “PipeWriter” routinely trade copyright tune files. There are even large repositories of these electronic files available to anyone via the Internet. Although the keepers of these archives know copyright laws full well, they nonetheless thumb their nose at their fellow pipers and drummers. They arrogantly and correctly assume that most pipers don’t have the money or wherewithal to challenge them legally.

We should note that a major exception to this is Robert MacNeil, writer of the “Bagpipe Music Writer” program. Perhaps because he is also a successful composer, MacNeil actively seeks out copyright infringement on the net, and strongly advises lawbreakers to respect their musical colleagues. Sadly, other pipers and drummers completely flout the law, and happily rip each other off.

As technology makes it ever easier to copy and exchange copyright music, things will indeed get worse. Emerging new electronic sound formats will make trading recorded music as simple as sending e-mail.

It’s not likely that pipers and drummers will ever collect every the royalty due them. We can, however, help ourselves. Don’t photocopy published music. Don’t trade electronic tune files of copyright music. Don’t be a patron of companies that rip off pipers and drummers.

It’s pretty simple: Until we respect each other, the rest of the world will never respect us.




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