Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gershwin as a Trademark?

In the spirit of Matthew Guerrieri's Soho the Dog post about the Rachmaninoff family copyright fiasco Guile of the Dead, I just came back from playing a concert with a piece called "An American in Paris Suite" with a TM (trademark) printed after the word "Paris." It is a re-orchestration of the original (with the saxophones removed!) and from where I was sitting I observed that there was some simplification in the string writing, and the edition had larger notes that were easier to read than the original. It was not the arrangement that bothered me though. It was the idea that the title of a piece of music could wear a trademark.

. . . and furthermore

GERSHWIN®, GEORGE GERSHWIN® and IRA GERSHWIN™ are trademarks of Gershwin Enterprises
PORGY AND BESS® is a registered trademark of Porgy And Bess Enterprises
RHAPSODY IN BLUE™ is a trademark of the George Gershwin Family Trust
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS™ is a trademark of the George Gershwin Family Trust
CRAZY FOR YOU® is a registered trademark of Crazy For You Enterprises
All Rights Reserved

I wonder if this is the kind of thing that the Rachmaninoff family wants to do with Rachmaninoff. What is this world coming to?

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Matthew said...

The trademark on the Gershwin name has actually been around for a few years now; I would guess that it dates from the combination of two family trusts (named for George and Leonore, Ira's wife) into Gershwin Enterprises, which controls the copyrights. That's probably still the first generation removed (Ira died in 1983). I think it's silly, too, but for what it's worth, similar trademark control over personal names and titles has been around in rock music for a while, too ("Billy Joel," for example, has been a registered trademark since at least the mid-80s).

viola power said...

Mostly, I try to get my students to play all their scales from memory right away. But sometime,s they will need a visual aid. So I have all the scales typed into my Sibelius program. Then, on the line labeled "Title or Copyright" I usually put the kid's name in there. Then I joke around with them and tell them that naytime anyone plays an E major scale, they will receive a royalty check for $.02. They know I am kidding with them, but I'm certain we are only one step away from something like that.

Elaine Fine said...

Some enterprising kid could make a bundle from that copyright line

Reedman said...

Copyrights expire. Trademarks do not. When the music to PORGY AND BESS goes into public domain (George died in 1924, add 95 years thanks to Sonny Bono, = 2019 expiration. The lyrics are significantly delayed later because Ira died in 1986.), anyone trying to record PORGY AND BESS and trying to call it PORGY AND BESS will be on the hind end of a trademark lawsuit from the Gershwin Family Trust. It is the newest scam by authors' families who want an infinite duration stream of royalties to live off of. It is possible that the catalog of public domain stories and music will almost stop growing.