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Out of Print, Publisher vanished...

What does one do if you own a piece of music and.... can't buy the copies for your choir because the music is long out of print and no longer on any music vendors' lists
....the publisher seems to have vanished into thin air so you can't ask the publisher for permission to copy
....the composer/arranger are both long dead
.....a request to borrow from a place you knew had the music (such as my old high school) has been turned down because "we don't loan music" or "we have no idea where that piece disappeared to"
.....a place such as a music lending library doesn't have it either.
I have three or four such wonderful pieces in my personal music library, where I only have a copy or two, and not enough for my entire HS choir. 
Should I just copy it and hope for the best????  Or who does one ask permission to copy, in this type of case?
Replies (16): Threaded | Chronological
on September 27, 2012 5:22am
Hi Donna,
Warning: IANAL and know nothing about US copyright law.
However, from my Right-pondian perspective I approach it like this:
  1. Is the music out of copyright (70 years after the composer's death here, 50 over there or does it vary from state to state?)?
  2. If so, is the ENGRAVING out of copyright. This is a very diferent matter because publishers renew their copyright of the engraving over here so that NEVER goes out of copyright. However if the publishers went out of business more than the statutary limit ago then you may be OK.
If both the music and engraving are out of copyright go ahead and copy with a clear conscience.
If the music is out of copyright but the engraving copyright still holds then re-engrave yourself in your favourite notation software. Put a personal copyright notice on the engraving thus:
Engraving copyright (c) 2012 Donna Ransdell
Then share it on CPDL ;)
That's what I do.
on September 27, 2012 5:36am
Hi, Donna.
I don't know for certain the legal ramifications (I find that few people do with any legal certainty), but I suppose you could check, if you haven't already, with the Hal Leonard behemoth to confirm that they didn't gobble it up before the prior publisher folded. Beyond that, all I can say is what I would do: I'd go ahead and copy it, knowing that I made a good-faith effort to investigate locating the score access. The chances of it coming back to bite would be so minimal that I wouldn't worry about it. Of course, you could handwrite "Permanently Out of Print" to give it some elevated level of formality, if perhaps not truly legal propriety.
Good luck.
Bob Cowles
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, NY
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 27, 2012 5:57am
Do searches on the ASCAP and BMI websites and see if the pieces appear in their lists:
Contact the folks at ASCAP and BMI and ask the same questions you asked here; you don't have to identify yourself or exactly which pieces of music you are interested in, unless you want to.  
Send out an SOS here in the Repertoire Forum and ask if anyone else has copies of the pieces you need and would be willing to lend them to you.
Good luck!
on September 27, 2012 11:00am
Donna:  (1) Mak a good faith effort to find the copyright owner (and checking with ASCAP and BMI is an essential part of that as Julia says).  (2) DOCUMENT that good faith effort so you can present that evidence in court.  (3) Copy and rehearse and perform the music.
Does that make it legal?  No, it does not.  The law is not set up to deal with copyrights that go orphaned.  And putting a "POP" notice on your copies is a good idea although that doesn't make it legal, either.  But it's important that you be able to show a good faith effort to do the right thing in case an obscure copyright owner should pop up some time in the future.
When my late wife edited a couple of collections of folk song arrangements for OAKE back in the '80s, we did make a good faith effort to obtain copyright permissions, and in some cases had to omit good arrangements because in that pre-Internet age the written permission had not arrived before our publication deadline.  But we also included a statement that we HAD made a good faith effort to observe all copyright permissions, and asked anyone who felt that they had a calim to contact us.  No one ever did.
Don't worry about Drek's concern about copyright on the engraving itself, as long as you are in the U.S.  U.S. copyright law has NEVER protected the engraved page, just the intellectual content.  European law is quite different in this respect, and necessarily more complicated.  However, under U.S. copyrigh law a new EDITION of a work, even a public domain work, can have its own valid copyright, which covers ONLY any new intellectual content.  Once a work enters the public domain it may never again be claimed under a new copyright, although there will always be people who do not understand that.
All the best,
Applauded by an audience of 3
on September 28, 2012 8:31am
A quick search of the Music Publishers Association website will be a huge help at If you look at the list of publisher imprints you will probably find who owns the copyright now, as they trace who buys what company and offers clearance for their copyrights. There is often a good chance, even if it the publisher is no longer in business, that it may be available in archive format now as well.
(Shameless plug) My March article in the CJ has a plethora of other ways to search for these titles. From many years of working in the print music business, if you share the publisher, I may even know who handles their copyrights.
CJ Redden-Liotta
on September 29, 2012 5:15am
I'd like to take advantage of your last offer, even though I'm not Donna. Do you know anything about Music 70? The MPA website has no information about them
on September 29, 2012 7:51am
Music 70 used to be handled by Plymouth Music. Most of Plymouth's catalog was purchased by Colla Voce ( Try them.
on September 28, 2012 1:38pm
Hi Donna:
This is where I find ChoralNet such a wonderful tool.  Tell us what the title is and how many copies you need.  Someone may have it and let you borrow.
on September 28, 2012 7:20pm
I posted one of the titles in the classifieds. Actually, thanks to someone's suggestion of going to ASCAP and BMI, I found the one who holds the copyright for "Aminte" (Frank Ahrold)'s CPP/Belwin AKA Alfred. An email to them gave me the link to their permission form.  It was said, "just 3 days for a response", so I'll wait till it's closer to spring.
One of the pieces is called "Magazine Madrigals", by A. Oscar Haugland. Published by Schmitt, Hall and McCreary, SATB, 1964. I have one copy of it. I used it years and years ago.  I found Haugland's "Family Madrigals" in a used book consortium, but just one copy and they wanted (cough) over $3.00 for it and that didn't include the postage. 
The third piece is the only one I don't have. It's called "Three Madrigals", but I don't really know the composer or publisher until I can find my HS scrapbook. We did these when I was in HS and we loved them.  One of the three was "take oh take, those lips away, that so sweetly ..." something. Another was "Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more, men were deceivers ever, one foot on sea and one on shore...".  The third was "weep mine eyes" or something like that. Our director always left it out...not sure why. 
on September 28, 2012 8:02pm
As for the third one, I expect this one is very much in print. Emma Lou Diemer, "Three Madrigals." Publisher is Boosey & Hawkes--check at JW Pepper for score samples to see if this is it.
on September 24, 2013 5:44am
I'm pretty certain ELD did set all three of those Shakespeare texts
on September 29, 2012 4:53am
might be Emma Lou Diemer's Three madrigals
you can see and listen here:
on September 29, 2012 7:07am
That's the one!  Thanks! 

Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 29, 2012 2:07am
I believe I have Magazine Madrigals in my choral files. If you want me to check, email me at mhuls(a)
Marvin Huls
on September 29, 2012 3:02am
Both of those texts you mention are from the Diemer "Three Madrigals":
on September 25, 2013 5:34am
Donna: my experience has been that Hal Leonard has obtained the rights to much of the choral music that falls into this situation.
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