I want to write my own book of transcriptions of jazz solos from the 30s.

Are those copyrighted?

Am I allowed to do this?

Are works from the 30s public domain?

What is public domain?

Can a solo/improvised solo even be copyrighted in the first place?

Do I need to pay anyone to be able to do this? Hopefully not, because I cannot afford it.

If you have some other ideas or suggestions for me, that'll be great.

closed as off-topic by Todd Wilcox, David Bowling, Richard, guidot, Dom Jan 8 at 18:13

  • This question does not appear to be about music practice, performance, composition, technique, theory, or history within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a legal question which is off topic as outlined in the help center. – Todd Wilcox Jan 8 at 0:06
  • It is about music. Also Im asking if a improvised solo counts as a ''composition'' which could or could not be copywrited ? Do you honestly think that If I asked this question to a lawyer he would have any clue what Im talking about ? In my opinion this forum is the best place for my question .... – chips Jan 8 at 0:11
  • Most lawyers have a passing knowledge of IP law and all lawyers know how to research. An IP lawyer would probably have a reasonably good answer right off the top of their head. So yes I think a lawyer would know exactly what you’re talking about. The word “transcription” or its variants appears multiple times in the actual code, so anyone who knows the law knows what those words mean and what you’re asking. Generally, if it’s recorded, it’s copyrighted. It has nothing to do with whether it was improvised or not. – Todd Wilcox Jan 8 at 2:45
  • Regardless of all that, if you look in the help center it says that a question is appropriate if it “is not about... business or legal issues (some of the latter may be asked on Law.SE)”. There is a whole law stack and yes they answer questions about copyright law. Legal questions are currently deemed specifically off topic here by the rules decided on by the community. If you read the help center you’ll find that being about music is not enough to make a question on topic here. – Todd Wilcox Jan 8 at 2:49
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    The copyright on the recorded work is different from a copyright on a transcription of that work, or other variant. – ggcg Jan 8 at 3:49

Since you say in the comments that you intend to sell this book, then the answer is clear: you absolutely do need permission from the copyright holders of each recording.

There is no way around this. Works from the 1930s will remain under copyright for at least another 7 years (in the US).

If you only use the transcriptions for personal use or distribute them for free, then you probably are still violating copyright law, but there is very little chance that you will be prosecuted.


I am not a lawyer so I'm not standing behind this entirely. You need to do your own homework. But you transcription is your work. You cannot claim to have written the solo as that would be plagiarism but if you transcribe the music you are generating your own work. You just have to give credit where credit is due, proper notation of who wrote and performed the work.

You cannot copy other peoples transcripts and pass them around as that violate copyright law. Many musicians and music teachers write their own copies of music from scratch to avoid this. I do not know if they are firm ground but I haven't heard any bad news. It is always a good idea to ask.

If you do not know who to ask you can look up on Harry Fox Agency website. HFA issue recording rights, not transcription rights, but they also have contact info for legal representation of the people who hold the aritist's work. Asking never hurts.

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    Giving credit where credit is due is how one avoids the scandal of plagiarism, it does nothing to mitigate the crime of copyright infringement, unless by “credit” you mean money for licensing fees. – Todd Wilcox Jan 8 at 2:53
  • You are just repeating what I said. That is exactly what I was referring to. And it is NOT copyright infringement to write your own transcriptions of work because that is NOT the work itself. – ggcg Jan 8 at 3:37
  • Transcribing is creating a derivative work, not your own work. Derivative works are one of the five exclusive rights granted to a copyright owner. You cannot legally transcribe a phonorecording without getting permission from the copyright owner unless the work is in the public domain. – Todd Wilcox Jan 8 at 4:50

As of now, Music and lyrics published in 1922 or earlier are in the public domain in the USA. Check https://www.pdinfo.com/

Can a solo/improvised solo even be copyrighted in the first place ?


Do I need to pay anyone to be able to do this ?

Search for solo in public domain and add your changes which does not need you to pay anyone.

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    Wait, didn't the 1923 stuff just enter the public domain in the USA this year? – Dekkadeci Jan 8 at 5:52
  • In U.K. I think it's clear after 60 yrs after the death of the composer, so it's worth checking what nationality that composer is/was. – Tim Jan 8 at 8:49
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    I'd caution that you may have a hard time selling transcriptions of public domain works. People can create their own versions for free and distribute them for free. – Dekkadeci Jan 8 at 15:29

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