[Newbee Question] Adapt an old boogie classic as theme song

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  • #35094 Reply

    Hello there,

    I have no experience with song licensing, so I wonder if someone could point me in the right direction.

    I’d like to let a musician adapt the song “Swanee River Boogie” by Albert Ammons and use it as main score for a video game. (Similar approach as with the Tetris song which was originally a Russian folk song from around 1900.) Afaik Ammons recorded the song in 1936 for Decca Records (Wikipedia) According to other sources, Ammons wrote the song in July 1946 (BlueBlackJazz), I find little background info with Google.

    My adaption imaginations are roughly:
    1) Variations in instruments, speed (like a “silent version” or a “speed version”)
    2) Writing a text

    My questions:
    1) Is this in general “legal” to adapt such an old song without any licensing?
    2) Who/where would I have to contact/do research in case the license situation is unclear? Is there something like a central agency for licensing questions for old songs or do I have to contact the label the song was originally released from since Ammons deceased a long time ago?

    Sorry if my question sounds stupid but I really have 0 experience in this matter.


    #35095 Reply
    Art Munson

    I did a quick search and it appears it may be in the public domain which means you don’t need to license it. If so you could copyright your arrangement of it. I’m not a lawyer so this is not meant to be legal advice.

    #35096 Reply
    Michael Nickolas

    Hi Michael. It is only legal to adapt the song if it were in the public domain. Based on the dates you posted it wouldn’t be. You need to contact the publisher to get a license (or maybe the Harry Fox Agency https://secure.harryfox.com/songfile/faq.jsp#faq3)

    The publisher can usually be found by searching the song title at ASCAP or BMI. I see the song is registered at ASCAP but unfortunately it only says “contact ASCAP for more information”. Usually the publisher is readily listed. If you search the writer name instead of the song title he shows up and a bunch of boogies are credited to him. But Swanee River Boogie isn’t on the list. Not usually this difficult, good luck.

    #35097 Reply
    Michael Nickolas

    Hi Art, I see you posted while I was typing. That would be good for him if it were public domain! Michael – each country has different public domain rules so watch out for that.

    “In the United States, any musical works published in 1924 or earlier, in addition to those voluntarily placed in public domain, exist in the public domain. In most other countries, music generally enters the public domain in a period of fifty to seventy-five years after the composer’s death.”

    #35098 Reply
    Michael Nickolas

    P.S – Art, maybe you’ve searched the public domain for “Swanee River” (Old Folks at Home)? It seems “Swanee River Boogie” is a different tune.

    #35099 Reply

    Works from 1924 entered the public domain this year. If all of the copyright formalities were followed, works from 1946 will not enter the public domain in the U.S. until 2042.

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