Has copyright on improvisations, finally been legally recognised?

The terms regarding this matter are very complex. SACEM (French copyright collecting society), automatically gives jazz musicians a small quota when they play improvisations on preexisting works during their concerts, respecting a special statute for improvisors.  In Italy this doesn't happen, however in accordance with Art. 2 of Law 633 of 1941, (“Law of Copyright”) which states: “Protection includes: (…) musical variations which in themselves are original works”, we can confirm that improvisations and arrangements which are drawn from or inspired by existing works (such as standards, common in the jazz tradition) are protected under this law. The variations must, however, contain new properties and at least a minimum amount of originality in order to be protected.

Remember that jazz is a “performer's art”, the text is often formed in the here and now of the performance, through the complex intertwining of the musician's body and movements with other people and the environment, all of which never completely matches a text pre-written by someone else. This gives way to the need to consider even the improvisation itself,  to be an object worthy of a protection under the law. (authorship of improvisation)

Who decides if an improvisation is truly original?

Originality according to the law is not a question of artistic taste or stylistic significance. An artistic work must have some degree of originality, even minimal, if it's to be protected under the law. The author must be compelled to leave his personal mark on his creation. The said creation, should also possess some “new” attribute (aside from the essential and characterizing elements). We believe improvisations on the harmonic structures of standards, can have basic requirements, provided that they are not obvious reproductions of someone's improvisation, and don't have prevailing usage of jazz “patterns” and “licks” which make up the common vocabulary. Therefore, we suggest you insert only your best improvisations in which you identify your specific musical style and expression. The same goes for orchestral arrangements: you cannot register a re-harmonization of a theme without adding some of your original element. It is essential that the work is a true formal development, a sequence of inventions and variations endowed with originality, even if inspired initially by a pre-existing melody.

Jazz is the music of freedom, I think that extemporaneous improvisations should not be formalized. Why try to Copyright?

In Europe, primarily in Italy, permits for “Public performance” have a considerable cost, in terms of copyright. If the musical activity is based primarily on playing and re-interpreting standards, and other famous compositions, all rights paid by the bar/club/organizer, etc, will go exclusively to the authors and publishers of that song. This is the case even if, after initial presentation of the theme, the musician improvises for a long period of time. In reality, we believe this to be a sort of servitude, re-inforced over time for works that are “written” and “tangible”, and thus contrary to the free spirit inherent to jazz. The solution, therefore, is to “fix” or “stabilize” the improvisations, giving them their own title, and place them on the music program list  (collecting society sheet), together with the standard which was expressed/interpreted/cited... (we are inclined towards abolishing the expression “execution” in the extemporary arts).  A similar process was adopted by Jazz innovators  such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and many others, through the creation of so-called “jazz contrafacts”, which were improvisations and thematic creations on pre-existing harmonic structures recorded as new pieces (for example: : Donna Lee, Dexterity, Groovin' High, In Walked Bud, Oleo, Ornithology, ...).

In Jazz, improvisation is also created from an impromptu re-elaboration of previous solos and models that have been heard, studied and assimilated. If everyone were to legally protect their own improvisation, it would be impossible to play freely. Wouldn't each musician sue other musicians for plagiarism?

The same problem actually presents itself in almost any musical genre. Even great classic composers re-elaborated pre-existing themes (both from other songwriters as well as folk music), and yet each one was able to leave his indelible print. The problem is even more present in the more commercial “Pop music”, where a catchy melody and need for immediately mass-marketable products, restrict creativity. How many songs sound the same or similar? Yet, true plagiarists are few and far between. Therefore similar harmony, tag lines, or even some identical melodic parts aren't enough to declare plagiarism. The copied section has to be considerable and must characterize the entire song. Returning to the question of plagiarism, it can only exist when a large part of the “chorus” is the same as another song. Citation and recall, do not constitute plagiarism in music.


Once I've uploaded my improvisation into the library, how can I register a copyright?

Your improvisation, if not already filed with a collecting agency, may be registered with our music publishers, once we've received your request and the title of the song. Anytime you play live and you improvise on a given structure (recurring structures, as in blues, the “rhythm changes” or other preferred standards) you will complete the music program list (musical itinerary) placing those titles. Needless to say, each improvisation, regardless of the same harmonic structure, will always be different. This doesn't nullify the process we've outlined, because what's important is that it's your personal original creation and formalized by the confines of the “harmonic rotation” of reference. It's also possible that a piece which was initially created as an improvisation, or conceived as a fac-simile of a new improvisation, one day  becomes a true theme or “chorus” in and of itself (as in “jazz contrafacts”). Similarly, for original arrangements, you can adopt the same system. In this instance, it's highly probable that the pre-existing theme and original material blend into a complex and polyphonic tapestry. It's essential to exclude all non-original parts from the “score”. 

Is registering in the Library the only way to have copyrights with improvisations?

No, we've indicated just one way, an approach which can be done autonomously. The usefulness of the library lies mainly in its visibility in belonging to a community of study and thus in the possibility of having one's own solos played by musicians around the world.

I exclusively play songs I've composed, and improvise on those: does it make sense to contribute to the library?

It certainly makes sense to share your songs with the rest of the world. As for royalties, if nothing changes during your live performances (because playing one’s own compositions incorporates the possibility to collect royalties), the fact that other musicians can play them, can considerably augment your earnings and artistic popularity.

Can I upload an entire standard which has been played and recorded live or in studio?

NO, because due to copyright laws, existing and legally protected melodies cannot be published nor can they be filed with a collecting agency. As a result, you'll have to edit the audio in an appropriate way and exclude any audio element not belonging to your original creation.

Can I upload an entire big band arrangement of a standard?

No, for the same reasons listed above. The copyright-protected arrangement is a formal development with parts created ex-novo, including “specials”, backgrounds, and melodic references all converging in a true musical creation. In the score you upload, you would have to remove any melody that has already been composed, published or protected under copyright laws. Also in this case, when completing the musical list you will have to insert the title and composer of the arranged song, and on another line, write the title of the new arrangement of which you are author.

Why can't I upload the original audio of a disc which is a part of jazz history?

An original recording of a disc is always the property of a third party. Therefore we cannot do with it as we wish. On the other hand, musical notes played by artists, if not themes filed with a collecting agency and thus legally protected, belong to no one. It's wise and correct to quote the improvising artist in the transcription of the solo, including record sources.

I've suscribed to another collecting society with no partnership with Siae. How can I take advantage of this Library?

With regards to royalties, you can create new works based on jazz standards' structures, and play them in your live shows with permission for public performances. You can decide to display them in our Library so as to get maximum diffusion and generate further royalties from interpretations by other musicians registered to your same collecting society.

I play improvised music but not Jazz exactly: It's jazz-rock, electronic music, world music, etc.  Can I contribute to the Library?

We would like to reiterate that you can contribute, in any case by registering accurate transcriptions of classic solos. Regarding reference structures for original pieces, in this phase we prefer to publish based on songs which belong, in some form, to jazz history and its various evolutions. Contact us and together we can evaluate this on a case by case basis.

I don't belong to any collecting agency, but I play jazz and improvise in my concerts. Can I contribute to the Library?

Of course. We've thought of this possibility, through the second mode of participation. If you are author of your works, you can protect them using a time-stamp service and publicize them throughout our Library.