Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Sunday, October 14, 2012

More copyright questions: "Grist for the Mills"

Ratzo B. Harris
Well, this seems to be a day for copyright issues! Hours after I had written the article below, I received - from one of my readers - a link to another discussion that muses about copyright

The "Mills" in the title above refers, no doubt, to Irving Mills. And that part of the title is also the title (are you following?) of an article by bassist Ratzo B. Harris. The article concerns a number of things, in part a confession of a painful misunderstanding, but ends up discussing concerns about how financial difficulty or professional relationships can result in misattributed copyright assignments. (From another article by Ratzo Harris, but pertinent to this discussion: "there is the problem of whether something agreed to vis-à-vis economic coercion is actually a matter of mutual consent.")

For those unfamiliar with the music of Duke Ellington - who figures prominently in this article - let me say here that Billy Strayhorn was a gifted composer, pianist, and arranger who was, for many years, part of the Duke Ellington organization. While he and Ellington worked closely together, it is often difficult to determine which compositions Strayhorn originated (and were credited as a collaboration between Ellington and Strayhorn), which ones Ellington originated and Strayhorn modified (but for which Ellington retained copyright credit), and so on. In the same way, sort of, that there is controversy over how much Irving Mills contributed to the many Ellington tunes on which he receives co-composer credit (likely more than is generally opined).

Okay, here I shall take a deep breath. And let Ratzo B. Harris tell his own story. His article can be found here, at The New Music Box website: "Grist For The Mills"