As I know so many people covered Jazz standards. Are scores on real book copyrighted or everybody can cover them? Or how can one check if a piece is copyrighted or not?

I did some research online but could not find a solid answer.

  • Pretty much all jazz is still protected by copyright in the United States. Oct 28 '20 at 13:42
  • Rule of thumb: Everything is copyrighted, unless it's really old or (maybe) it has an explicit waiver of copyright (which may or may not be effective depending on jurisdiction). The longer answer is, it's complicated. That chart is just for US law; if you want to determine something's copyright status in other countries, you'll need to investigate them separately. When reading that chart, "in the public domain" means "not copyrighted."
    – Kevin
    Oct 28 '20 at 20:47
  • I’m voting to close this question because legal questions are off-topic.
    – Dom
    Oct 28 '20 at 20:57
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    @Dom Maybe so in the MPT rule book but this is a question that does pertain to performance and I believe it deserves to be here. Others seem to agree. Oct 29 '20 at 6:41
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    An answer to this question is provided here: Where did “The Real Book” originally come from?.
    – Aaron
    Nov 1 '20 at 6:24

“The Real Book” is now published by Hal Leonard and yes, the songs in the book are all copyrighted and published. That wasn’t always the case, early editions of The Real Book were bootlegged, the songs were transcribed and books were printed and sold without paying royalties to the publishers and composers of the songs in it.

If you plan on recording songs that are copyrighted and published and releasing them then you do have to license the songs and play royalties. The rates vary based on the type of release and number of copies you plan on manufacturing. The Harry Fox agency has handled licensing music for years but I’m sure there are several other companies that do this as well. If you want to find out about the copyright of a specific song you can use this website for example, I’m sure there are many others: https://www.easysonglicensing.com/pages/help/resources/search-songs.aspx This site also offers licensing services like Harry Fox does. I don’t endorse or recommend this site, I just found it in a search.

Performing copyrighted and published music live is generally not pursued for royalties by publishers and composers unless it is a very high profile act. There are some venues that pay blanket usage rates to ASCAP and/or BMI for the purpose of being able to perform cover songs in their venues. For the most part if you want to play tunes out of The Real Book on a gig there’s not much to worry about.

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    I wonder if it's country dependent. (No, not Country Music!)
    – Tim
    Oct 28 '20 at 10:48
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    In the UK, public live performance is covered by the venue's license - which is compulsory. The composer/author receives the royalties in a blanket 'unreported use' category. The performer needn't worry about it at all. If you release a cover, then you must report this directly to the PRS, who will handle the rest. This is usually done by the record company on your behalf; idk how it works if you press a bunch of CDs yourself [it probably is just ignored in low number cases]. I'm a bit vague on this, as in 40 years of making records, I've never done that bit myself ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 28 '20 at 11:30
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    Just because the early editions of the Real Book were unauthorized doesn’t mean the music in it wasn’t copyrighted. ALL works that are “fixed” (either written down or recorded or both) are copyrighted in the US. ALL. The only things that are public domain are works where the copyright has expired. Generally that is nothing that was fixed after 1923 or so. That means that essentially all jazz is copyrighted still. Oct 28 '20 at 13:41
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    In the EU the act of writing a piece gives you copyright - though unless you register it [which is free once you're in the PRS] then who would know about it? In the mainstream this is all handled by the record/publishing companies; at pub-gig levels, who knows, it probably never gets handled at all. I've heard of being asked for set lists, but I think it's all covered by the 'unreported use' category these days [in the UK at least], to save on paperwork. I don't exactly do a lot of pub/club gigs these days, or for the past 20 years, so my knowledge is likely to be a bit rusty.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 28 '20 at 17:05
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    @ToddWilcox I stand corrected on title 17 and I agree on both your points, simply writing something down or recording it offers no proof of ownership or gives the owner any legal ammunition without registration. Also this may have floated off topic but it is an interesting discussion and is something musicians should have an idea about. It might loosely fit under the “P” of MPT. Oct 28 '20 at 17:19

You can learn jazz songs then turn it into your own easy becuase jazz songs are based on functional harmony So there are 3 blueprints for a progression Tonic/ subdominant/ tonic ]. Tonic/ Dominant/ tonic ] Subdominant/ Dominant/ tonic ].

You can swap out any chord in the same function with another .

All songs are built from the same building blocks

( this means you can learn how make your own as well as understanding why a certain song is that way )

You can take a jazz standard transform it into original with no fear of copyright violation ( while at same time keeping the level of meaning the same playing same way over it ) If you look at 150 standards your going see the same 3 things happen in all songs [ tonic/ subdominant/tonic ] [ tonic / Dominant/ tonic ] [ subdominant/ dominant/ tonic] There many different chords in each of those groups

  • Performing or writing a copyright protected melody with different chords is still performing or writing the copyright protected melody, and permission is required to do that unless you own the copyright yourself.
    – phoog
    Nov 1 '20 at 6:13

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