Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lord, Help The Poor And Needy

It's a lovely sentiment - and, indeed, a sentiment which Chan Marshall sings on the new Cat Power album.

The trouble is, though, she's not actually doing her part to help the poor and needy on this one - the album credits the song to the public domain, but it actually is still in copyright, and should be earning money for Jessie Mae Hemphill's estate.

Matador Records are putting the error right, although it seems their consciences needed some prodding by SF Weekly:

[Matador's Chris] Lombardi said he was aware of the letter and insisted the label had been in touch with [publisher David] Evans. But just twelve hours earlier, Evans told SF Weekly he hadn't heard from Matador. When SF Weekly pointed out this discrepancy to Lombardi, he paused awkwardly. "Really?" he responded after a few moments. "Well, that's weird."

Shortly after the Weekly interviewed Lombardi for this article, Matador contacted Evans and Mathus, Evans confirms.

It does seem to be a genuine mistake rather than a deliberate attempt to diddle anybody; what's more interesting is the way the case illustrates the difficulties in tracing copyright in music that existed outside the disc-and-sheet-music mainstream. A knock-on effect of copyright extension could, at least, have the unintended positive consequence of extending earning potential for people who really could use the money but - sadly - the chances of them even earning the money they're entitled to now seem slim enough as it is.