Villa-Lobos Copyright

Update October 15, 2007: As I update older pages from the website, I'll need to spend some time fixing broken links. In this case, I'll also need to add some new resources, because the web is a much different place now than it was 10 years ago.

A great place to start is the International Music Score Library Project at Because the IMSLP's servers are based in Canada, they follow Canadian Copyright Law. Relevant sections of international copyright law are summarized on the Public Domain page. Here's an important point: "The briefest summary of Canadian copyright law would be that copyright persists for the composer or editor (if any) for 50 years after his/her death." That means that in Canada (and also in China, Japan, South Korea, and some other countries), Villa-Lobos scores enter the public domain on January 1, 2010.

However, in the European Union and in Brazil (among other countries), works do not enter the public domain until 70 years after the composer's death. This means that Villa-Lobos scores do not enter the Public Domain there until 2030. This fact is referred to below by Mr. Gandleman.

In the U.S., all works published before 1923 may currently be in the public domain. These include the following works which are currently available as PDF files on the IMSLP American server:

* African Folk-Dances - Danças características africanas (1920)
* The Baby's Family - Prole do Bébé (1920-21)
* Children's Carnival - Carnaval das crianças brasileiras (1920)
* Fairy Tales - Histórias da Carochinha (1920)
* Floral Suite (1918)
* Simple Compilation - Simples coletânea (1919)
* Suite infrantil no. 2 (1913)

Other important works published before 1923 (and thus possibly in the Public Domain in the U.S.) include:

* Choros #1 for guitar (1920)
* Choros #2 for flute & clarinet (1921)
* Suite for piano & orchestra (1913)
* Symphony no. 1 (1920)
* Symphony no. 2 (1917)
* Symphony no. 3 (1919)
* Symphony no. 4 (1919)
* Amazonas (1917)
* Uirapuru (1917)
* The three violin sonatas (1913, 1914, 1920)
* The three piano trios (1911, 1915, 1918)
* Sextuor mystique (1917)
* String quartets 1 & 2 (1914)
* String quartets 3 & 4 (1917)
* Ibericarabe (1914)
* A Lenda do Caboclo
* Suite for Children no. 2

Original Page, last updated 1999

I've had many queries over the years concerning the state of copyright for the music of Villa-Lobos. This page will act as a resource in this area; look here for updates as things change.

A guide to copyright for music librarians is maintained on the Music Library Association website.

Music copyright is complex enough in one country - note that much of what's on the web in English refers to U.S. copyright law. When you add together the laws of many different countries and the emerging world of digital coyrights, things get real complicated!

A recently published article by Henrique Gandelman entitled "Os Direitos Autorais de Villa-Lobos" gives some authoritative information for those who are interested in the state of the art of VL copyright around the world. Mr. Gandelman's firm represents the composer's heirs.

With Mr. Gandelman's permission, I am publishing below an English translation of his Villa-Lobos article. This translation was kindly provided by Harold Lewis: thanks again, Harold!

The performing rights which entitle composers to receive payment when their works are played are all enshrined in national and international law; but these rights are sometimes misunderstood or incorrectly determined, whether through ignorance, negligence or sheer bad faith. This was the situation that for many years affected the performing rights of Villa-Lobos: they existed in law, but for various reasons his rightful inheritors did not receive what was due to them. It really bears out Charlie Chaplin's comment that "there are things beyond all comprehension".

Villa-Lobos died in 1959. The legislation in force at that time meant that copyright in his works was to be protected for a further 60 years, dating from 1 January 1960 - that is, until the year 2020. Subsequent copyright law has extended that period to 70 years: in other words, as things stand now, Villa-Lobos's works are protected until the year 2030.
Shortly before his death, Villa-Lobos - who was still married to D. Lucília, since divorce did not then exist in Brazil, and, in terms of property law, shared his assets jointly with her, since they had no children - decided to draw up a will, in which he bequeathed his 50% of the estate to the Brazilian Academy of Music, subject to the condition that they passed on part of the income they received from his works to Mindinha, for the remainder of her life. The remaining 50% was to go to D. Lucília as her rightful half of the interest in his estate.

The process of drawing up an inventory of the Villa-Lobos estate took more than 35 years, and was completed only at the end of 1997. This process turned into a veritable 'unfinished symphony' whose themes and counterpoints were complicated by the host of people who got themselves involved, including the brothers and nephews of Lucília who tried to claim that they too as her heirs had rights to the estate.

The finally agreed probate settlement divided the Villa-Lobos legacy as follows: 50% to the Brazilian Academy of Music and 50% to Lucília's only surviving brother.

In July 1995, before the inventory was completed, the President of the Academy, the composer Ricardo Tacuchian, and his deputy Turíbio Santos (Director of the Museu Villa-Lobos) engaged the services of our practice to research the situation of Villa-Lobos's performing rights in Brazil and overseas, to finalise the inventory of his estate, and to start the process of administering the performing rights efficiently on behalf of the Villa-Lobos estate. In this task we had the assistance of the Museu Villa-Lobos, which had compiled and was revising a catalogue of his works. One early decision was to adopt a strategy of not contesting the contracts which Villa-Lobos had signed with national and international publishers, even though these contracts had required the assignment of copyright to them in return for very low levels of royalties and fees. Our justification for this approach was to be able to obtain more quickly the amounts owed to the estate, and so gain time to prepare, in a second stage of the process, a carefully developed case for revising the initial contracts, without incurring disputes or litigation.

We went to the USA, France, and Italy, visiting publishers and performing rights societies, armed with certified copies of the probate settlement. One of the purposes of this research was to check that the works by Villa-Lobos which they published were properly recorded in their books.

All the contracts which Villa-Lobos signed with various publishers involved the assignment of copyright in the work for the length of time for which the work was under copyright protection. For their part, the publishers were to be responsible for licensing performances of the work and its use in any medium, and paying Villa-Lobos the appropriate royalties and fees - for example, for the sale and hire of scores, recording licences, use in sound tracks, and so forth.
Payment for public performances was always collected through performing rights societies: Villa-Lobos was a member of the Brazilian Composers' Union, which has reciprocal arrangements with most foreign performing rights societies, which pass on to it the royalties earned from performances of his works in their countries.

An efficient estate administration needs to examine publishers' and performing rights societies' accounts in depth, so as to check whether the amounts due to the composer are being correctly entered in the books, whether the works registered by the performing rights societies include all the works covered by the contract, and so forth.

Here are some examples of what we found, which show how the legal situation affects the rights of the Villa-Lobos estate.

I - Brazil

There are some works published by the firm Irmãos Vitale (we have copies of the contracts in our files).

b) For those early works of Villa-Lobos published originally by the publishing house of Arthur Napoleão, we have agreed a new contract with the publishers Fermata, who acquired the Napoleão assets several years ago. This new contract awards them only the publication rights for a period of 10 years. It does not irrevocably assign copyright to Fermata. Though the initial contracts with Napoleão had expired, Fermata were continuing to collect payments on them. To resolve the situation, we agreed to consider those initial contracts null and void, and Fermata paid the Villa-Lobos estate an agreed sum as a goodwill gesture on signature of the new contract.

II - Overseas

a) In France, the firm of Max Eschig has contracts which assign to it the rights on various works (we have copies of the contracts in our files).

b) In Italy, the firm of Ricordi Milan owns the rights on some works under contracts signed in November 1946. These works include the Bachianas Brasileiras no 2, which, of course, contains the international best-seller 'O Trenzinho do Caipira'. It is interesting to note that Ricordi has not passed on any royalty payments since the death of Villa-Lobos, claiming that it did not know who the composer's inheritors were. Only at the end of 1998, when we showed them the certified probate, did Ricordi make an interim payment of the amounts due to the estate up to 30 June 1998.

c) So far as the USA is concerned, the situation is more complicated, since various publishers have had rights assigned to them: for example, Music Sales Corporation (which has absorbed among others AMP, G. Schirmer, and the Villa-Lobos Music Corporation), Peer International, and Carl Fisher.

We are also faced with several problems which require careful analysis. For example:

i) The Bachianas Brasileiras no. 3 was considered to have been published by Ricordi New York. However, Ricordi Milan says this is not the case. We have not yet succeeded in establishing who is the publisher of this work.

ii) Symphonies nos. 1, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 were published by Eschig. Symphony no. 2 (Ascension) was thought to have been published by Ricordi NY, which again is denied by Ricordi Milan. Symphonies nos. 3, 4 and 5 do not have an identified publisher.

iii) A US publisher has claimed to be the owner of all rights in respect of the 'Forest of the Amazon' score, which it alleges forms part of the sound track of the film 'Green Mansions'. We have strongly contested this claim, after examining the issue together with Ricardo Tacuchian, Turíbio Santos and Mário Tavares. We have written to ASCAP with the information that 'Forest of the Amazon' is a totally different score from the sound track of 'Green Mansions', which was to all intents and purposes composed by Bronislaw Kaper, who made use of one or two original themes from the initial score written by Villa-Lobos. The situation has still not been resolved, even though ASCAP has been helpful in blocking the so-called 'rights' of that publisher.

iii) So far as the 'operetta' Magdalena (presented originally on Broadway) is concerned, we have not been able to identify who is legally responsible for the publishing activity of Music Sales Corporation. MSC claims to own only the US rights to the work, but has not been able to show us a contract, which ought to involve also the writers (Robert Wright and George Forrest).

We are now intending to use merchandising techniques to expand the sphere of the Villa-Lobos estate. Together with the specialist marketing firm MBA, who have developed merchandising on the works of the painter Portinari, we propose to exploit the rights to use the notation of themes by Villa-Lobos and his very distinctive signature on a range of commercial products, such as pens, cigars, T-shirts, cups, and other items.

On the threshold of this new age of advanced information technology, with developments such as the Internet and MP3, we believe now is the right time to start the second stage of our work - namely, revising and in time securing changes to all the existing publication contracts, so as to obtain the best possible royalty income for the Villa-Lobos estate.

The above English summary is by Harold Lewis, based upon Henrique Gandelman's original article - "Os Direitos Autorais de Villa-Lobos".

I recently received an interesting email from an old friend, Alfred Heller, President of the Villa-Lobos Music Society. Here are some of his comments on particular VL copyright issues.

With regard to Forest of the Amazon, Villa-Lobos composed the entire composition as what we now call, "a work for hire" and with an agreement, "in perpetuity." Whatever might have been added to it or changed belonged to MGM. He did not retain any rights. As a witness to some of the events at that time, I can tell you that it was an unpleasant experience for him all the way. The following is the order of events. The original title of this music was registered at ASCAP as Forest of the Amazon. I watched Villa-Lobos orchestrate it in December 1958. He then sent MGM Forest of the Amazon (also containing the title Green Mansions on the same first page). I have a xerox of that manuscript which the Museu Villa-Lobos provided. Mr. Kaper later adapted it for Green Mansions. Villa-Lobos changed a few things after that when he prepared to make the UA recording. I was called in to coach Bidú Sayão.

Thanks for this, Alfred. I highly recommend Alfred's excellent recording of Forest of the Amazon. For more information on Villa-Lobos' MGM experiences, check out the page Villa-Lobos at the Movies.

Here's another comment from Alfred:
Do you have the latest versions of This Business of Music and More About This Business of Music by M. William Krasilovsky? The law was changed recently. Having had works of mine recorded with texts by James Joyce and Robert Frost, I have had to go into this in a big way and have consulted with copyright officers of two major publishing companies, one of which publishes Frost here and in Canada.

November 25, 2009:

Here's an interesting note from Hugh Ross (who produced Yerma in Santa Fe in 1971), quoted in Lisa Peppercorn's article "Villa-Lobos's Stage Works", p. 182:

"Hardly any of Villa-Lobos's works were played for ten years after his death because the performers and publishers didn't know to whom they should pay the performance rights.  If they paid Arminda, they could be sued by Lucilia, and maybe vice-versa.  It finally became [so] ridiculous that the Brazilian government stepped in and decided that fees for works written prior to a certain date (I believe when Villa-Lobos left Lucilia) should revert to her and fees for subsequent works should go to Arminda."