Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Grace Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL3843
[1940s?]

From R. Vaughan Williams,
The White Gates,
Westcott Road,
Dorking.

My Dear Grace
It is very difficult to advise. Say the piece is sold for 6d  & 5,000 copies are sold that wd mean £250 and say you got 10% royalty you wd get £12.10 on the 500 or £2-10 per 1,000.
Supposing you ask for £3-3-0 down & a royalty after the 1st 2,000 copies.
This wd seem to me fair - but you may not get it - & when starting one has to let a few things go & hope to make better terms for the next thing if one is popular.
When I first started I published a thing called "Sound sleep" with Novellos & got £2-2-0 & no royalties & they have sold thousands.
With regard to copyright in folksong - the copyright is not in the tune but in the collectors copy of the tune - & the law holds that the collector having used time, labour, skill & (often) expense in obtaining that tune is entitled to consider it his property almost as if it were his own composition.
This I think is on the whole fair
- This property he can if he chooses sell to a publisher & here comes the trouble - because the tune (not the copy) in its raw state being common property the owner should consider himself the trustee & use his rights to prevent improper use of the tune & not for illicit gain - But of course publishers do not have these altruistic views
Of course there is nothing to prevent you or any one else going to some traditional singer and noting down the tune again - when your copy will be your property just as the other collectors is his property.
- I think when publisheres use the law in this dog in the manger way it is not right
The classical case is that of Lord Rosenberg's speech - in which he was held to have infringed copyright by quoting in print a reporter's version of his own speech!
Love from Uncle Ralph

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Letter