|Question||Is music by George Gershin in the public domain? or Can I arrange or transcribe Gershwin's music and publish it on Score Exchange?|
Under regular circumstances you would expect that music by George Gershwin is out of copyright and in the public domain, as he died more than 70 years ago. However in this case this is not true. The main reason is that a lot of George's work was accompanied by lyrics written Ira Gershwin, who did not die until much later (1983). This clearly means that the lyrics are in copyright - this is not questionable. However you might well expect the music without lyrics to be generally available.
We at Score Exchange have spent a great deal of time, and effort to track down the current, actual copyright status of George Gershwin. This is the information that we have found:
Based on these facts, and the legal advice we have received about music and lyrics of songs generally, these points would add up to mean that the music written by George Gershwin is currently in the public domain as long as it used without lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Then at some point before November 2013 as the EU directive amendments are adopted into UK law, it will no longer be in the public domain until 70 years after the death of Ira Gershwin (2053).
During some final checking with the Music Publishers Association, we are told that the music of Gershwin is an exception to these rules, and is still covered by copyright, in the UK, and Europe (we don't have currently have information for the rest of the world). In Europe this copyright is administered and licensed where appropriate by Faber Music on behalf of Warner/Chappell who, as far as we are aware handle the rest of the world.
At the time of writing (23rd January 2012) we're still trying to reach someone at Faber Music to discuss the current situation, but as far as we at Score Exchange are aware, music by George Gershwin is currently not in the public domain. Therefore, if you wish to publish your arrangement of any Gershwin music on ScoreExchange.com you must first obtain written permission from either Faber Music in the UK, or Warner/Chappell in the rest of the world.
If you have any other information that would help to clarify anything that we are saying here, we would like to hear from you - please contact us.