Three Important Music Copyright Laws

If you are a musician or business owner that enjoys playing other artists music, then make sure you check out this list of music copyright laws to ensure that you are not breaking any laws. While you may think that your performances are playing within the rules, song owners have more rights over their work than you think. Here are is some key information that you will definitely want to know.

1) The Performance Right

Pink Floyd, Earls Court 1973Many musicians believe they have the right to perform any song, in any place, at any time. However, the right to perform songs depends on the individual song owners, not the performers. Song owners are entitled to collect royalties for all public performances of their songs. This means that performers need licenses from the song owners in order to legally be allowed to perform them.

Business owners and musicians need to be aware that they are required to pay for performance licenses if they want to play music for their customers. If your band ends up performing at a bar, restaurant or party, then you will want to ensure the venue has paid for a performance license before you play any cover songs.

2 – The Right to Make Changes to Others’ Songs

music-musical-instrument-guitar-soundsMaking changes to the lyrics or melody of a song may seem like a good way to leave your personal mark or show your unique artistic talent on a song, but you actually still need permission from song owners before changing inherent parts of the song. While there are some things that you can change, such as tempo and key, anything that alters the fundamental bones of the song requires that you get in contact with the song owners first. Keep in mind that you should be prepared to pay a fee to the song owners for the privilege of making changes to the song.

3 – Fair Use

downloadFair use is one of the tricker and most commonly misunderstood parts about copyright law. There are no hard and fast rules about what is fair use really is. In fact, the courts evaluate fair use on a case-by-case basis, weighing factors four factors to determine fair use.

The court evaluates fair use on the following criteria: whether the use is for commercial or nonprofit/educational purposes and how the use will affect the value of the original work, nature of the copyrighted work, amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Whenever you make a lot of money or gain fame and influence by borrowing someone else’s idea, there is a good chance that someone will take legal action against you. It is always best to err on the side of caution by asking for permission before making changes to someone else’s work.

Fair Play, Fair Pay

Christopher Sabec Fair Pay, Fair PlayToday marks a historic day in the eyes of the music industry, as four members of Congress introduced a bi-partisan piece of legislation called the “Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015.” The four members of Congress responsible for introducing the legislation were House Democrats Ted Deutch, Jerrold Nadler, and John Conyers Jr. and House Republican Marsha Blackburn. If the act passes, it would require radio stations to pay musicians for their songs played on the radio.  The act would also force all forms of radio to pay royalties on master recordings made after 1972, and do away with discounted rates paid by certain digital services to artists and musicians.

There is a short list of countries that don’t pay their artists for AM/FM radio airplay, and the United States is the only democratic country where this exists. The other countries include North Korea, Iran, Rwanda, Vietnam, and China. The United States has held this position for almost a century, and this act is a step forward towards change in the music industry. Because of the laws instilled in the United States, artists also don’t get paid for their songs played on the radio abroad. Since the US music industry imports more music than they export, the music economy in the US suffers due to this.

The executive director of musicFirst Coalition, Ted Kalo said, “The bill is designated to return the music licensing system to a basic principal of Fair Play, Fair Pay.”  People assume that artists are rich if their music gets played all over the world, but this is not necessarily the case coming from the United States.

5 Misconceptions Regarding Copyright Law

Christopher Sabec trichordist copyright misconceptions1)   If someone is defaming me, I can issue a DMCA takedown – If someone is spreading lies and taking about you without using your copyrighted material, then the Digital Millennium Copyright Act can’t be issued.

2)   It is illegal to write a story using somebody else’s trademark concept – Marvel and DC both own the trademark on the term “superhero,” so small time publishers may not use superhero in the title of their works, but it is perfectly legal for them to mention superheroes in their stories.

3)   Stories can not have the same plot a previously copyrighted story –  Copyright law protects the way in which the idea is portrayed, not the actual idea itself. You can have a masked vigilantly fighting crime in New York City, but if he has a fondness for bats, looks like batman, and is a wealthy Christian Bale character during the day, then the court can decide that this is Batman and violates copyright law.

4)   There is no reason to register your work as copyrighted material anymore – It is a lot easier for register your work as copyrighted material than it was 30 years ago. Before, it was mandatory to include a copyright notice if you wanted to register your work under copyright law. Today, any work that you create automatically belongs to you with or without the copyright notice. Registering your copyrighted material and obtaining a notice; however, deters people from copying your work and lets other know who to contact for licensing purposes.

5) Anyone can post a cover of a copyrighted song on YouTube – If you decide that you want to post a cover on YouTube of a copyrighted song, then you must acquire a synchronization license from the copyright holder.

Piracy in the Music Industry

Christopher Sabec Piracy in the Music IndustryFor artists, musicians, and production software developers, piracy has been a steadfast concern for a number of years. Despite preventative measures and regular advancements in online security, pirates maintain to be crafty. As are most, the issue of online media piracy is a two sided argument. On one hand, access to pirated media and software allows composers and media consumers with limited resources to access a viable platform for their work and the music, TV shows, and movies they like to view. On the other hand, piracy deprives software developers and artists of the opportunity to profit from their work, and may discourage future advancements and creative contributions.

Many pirates justify stealing software and media online and sharing it freely by offering the argument that the record companies, studios, and creators of respective software are getting fat off the profit. In some cases, this is true. Musicians only see a fraction of the profit from retail album sales, accruing most of their income from live performances and merchandise they sell personally. Major software companies like Adobe, Microsoft, and Oracle make insane amounts of profit, and to them, pirated software is little more than a drop out of the bucket. But most software companies are small, indepently owned businesses, and rely on software sales to stay afloat. Software often comes with an off-putting price tag, but this often has a lot to do with having to account for piracy in pricing the product.

Pirates also make the claim that media is overpriced, but often overlook the cost of producing the media. The bill associated with studio time for tracking, mixing, and mastering music adds up quickly, and pressing music to a physical medium racks up a hefty bill as well. It should be common knowledge that after paying cast, crew, production studios, composers, directors, etc., movies and television shows often dish out copious amounts of cash in creating film based media. While piracy poses a major threat to lesser known film studios and artists, on the other hand, major studios make millions of dollars from ticket sales at the box office, contracts with Netflix, Redbox, and Hulu, and DVD and Bluray sales.

Controversial by nature, piracy does hinder many artists and software producers from earning due profit from their work. My word of advice to pirates is to consider the producers of the software and media you enjoy, and encourage them to continue creating good products.

 

Independent Record Labels vs. Youtube: The Fight for Money

Christopher Sabec YoutubeIn a recent article by Billboard Biz, Youtube might “take down” music from independent music labels. This is all in light of Youtube’s recent subscription service launch. If the rates that Youtube is offering are not fully compensated for the paid subscription service then Youtube will not be “supporting” them any longer on Youtube’s ad-supported streaming service. A service that pays hundreds of millions of dollars a year to labels and publishers. Not only will this hurt the independent labels that use the site to promote their artists and videos but Youtube will keep the videos up on the site without backing the label with advertisers.
In order to defend themselves, Youtube will stand by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and will only take down the music when they are notified by the rights owner. The independent labels either can take down their music or leave their music on the site with no compensation from Youtube. It is a tricky situation. After the service launch, there have been many independent labels complaining about the way Youtube is handling the situation and they are trying to get government regulatory agencies to look at Youtube’s businesses tactics in the way they set up the subscriptions service. However, not all indie labels are upset with Youtube. Other online streaming services, such as Spotify, don’t give labels the option to be on the premium service rather than the ad-supported part of their model. Labels state that Youtube is “going backwards” with their business model. This means that Youtube built and developed the “free” part of their model first and then figured out how to make money by converting the site to an ad-supported model. On the other hand, other streaming services have offered indie labels lower rates than other established labels. Moving forward, hopefully something can be done to help indie labels not have to suffer when big names like Youtube and spotify want to turn a profit on their content.