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Copyright Questions

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Some copyright threads have broken out in various areas of MLR so I will move them here. From now on please post any questions you may have regarding copyrights here.

200 thoughts on “Copyright Questions”

  1. I’m starting to copyright my stuff as collections containing 15 or more cues since it’s too expensive doing individual cues at a rate $35 a pop when I’m writing almost 2 a week.
    Anything to add? tips? opinions? I do realize that if you assign a copyright to somebody(which I don’t intend to do),then I would in effect be giving rights to the whole group under that collection but I’m more interested in just having proof that I did in fact right the music if it ever came up.

  2. When you have more than one version of a piece, is it advisable to copyright each version? For example, one piece of mine has one version with a brief intro and one without. Another piece with acoustic guitars and strings has a version with guitars only.

    I guess this would also apply to stings and pieces with several edits for time.

    Since I’ll be copyrighting as a collection, money isn’t the issue. I’m just wondering when it’s worth the extra busy work of uploading and titling the variations.

    • My understanding is that you are applying for a copyright of the composition, not the master recording, so that answer, in my mind at least, is no – you only need to copyright it one time.

      • Use Form PA to copyright just the underlying work.

        Use Form SR to copyright the sound recording and the underlying work.

        Edits and mixes are part of the underlying work, unless they change its character to the point of being a derivative work.

        • I copyright mine online and on the application you have Title,then completion date and below that you have a choice of what the author created where I select sound recording and music.
          That’s how I’ve been doing it. There’s no online PA form you can fill out that I’m aware of though I used to before you could copyright online.

    • Ironic. Composers/musicians would be incensed about someone stealing their music but have no problem stealing music software.

  3. Hi Cynic,

    Start by hiring an attorney to send them a cease and desist letter. If you do not, at least do that, you are signaling that you have no clear intention of pursuing the matter. Also, report the infringing use to your PRO. Did the track come from a library?

    Best of luck,

    Michael
    I

  4. Hi,

    This is really getting me down. A film director is using my music, without paying for it, and without my permission. I have contacted them many times, and they have just fobbed me off with promises to pay. This has been going on for years, seriously, years. I want to pursue legal action because I am sick of being treated like scum.

    But is there anything I can even do? Or is this just another example of how utterly powerless we are as composers.

    What do you do when someone uses your music without permission?

    • Honestly, I think you should leave the matter alone. The guy that is using your music without permission is wrong, but he has been doing it for years. Even if he stopped today, you would not be compensated.

      You shouldn’t waste any more time or money pursuing the matter. Just forget aboout it and promote your new music. That is what I would do.

      • Why do I bother?

        At least when I put “Esquire” after my name I get paid to have people
        ignore my opinion. πŸ˜†

        • Cynic would definitely be doing the right thing by hiring a lawyer and chasing down payment from the film director. But my guess is that Cynic would probably spend more money than he recouped. I just wouldn’t put too much effort into it unless the payoff was great.

          I am not even sure why Cynic posted his situation other than to vent. Venting is not bad, but I don’t think he was really looking for answers. To me, Cynic just seemed to be making a rhetorical statement, as he said “But is there anything I can even do?”

          • I have been in this situation where a producer of a prime time TV show just fobbed me off when it came to payment. A simple letter from my publisher to inform him to take my music off the program immediately, and that another letter would be sent to the legal dept of the TV station, got a cheque in my hand 24 hours later. Trust me the amount of grief and cost to take something off an already mixed film is enough to put these guys into action.
            Distributors of TV and movies want and need ironclad agreements covering all the content or they won’t touch it. Have you ever seen a film music contract ? Very detailed and specific.

    • Cynic,

      I understand your frustrations. I agree with Michael in that you should look into legal representation. If your track was originally obtained from a stock library, that library may aid in this battle. I have been involved in this several times in the past on behalf of artists. Your PRO might also help you, at least in retrieving Performance Royalties.

      I feel that it is the wrong move to lie down and let the abuser continue to use the composition. It sends the wrong message to the abuser and others who continually misuse commercial music.

    • Hi Cynic

      Defo do as MichaelL suggests. A cease and desist letter shouldn’t be expensive. I don’t know what country you are in but here in Europe the national EBU TV stations have to have the correct clearance and documentation for all music used. If it has been shown or will be shown contact the legal department and inform them that a proper sync license has not been obtained. That programme will not be aired until the issue has been resolved.

      • Thank you to everyone for your replies. Synth Player was slightly right, in that I needed to vent and I was partly rhetorical, but I also was genuinely wondering what I can do.

        Unfortunately, I have got myself into a real mess with this one, as it all started ages ago – before I understood how to protect my music better. I have written music for a director making a feature, but they missed all the payment deadlines to pay me. We’re in different countries. It isn’t yet set to be aired anywhere, and he is going to get another composer (and probably con them too), but basically I have nothing I can do except hiring an attorney, and in this particular case, I can just feel that is not going to help me, and also be very expensive. I have learnt my lesson. For all future directors, it’s at least 50% payment up front – or they can get lost.

        Thank you again for your advice everyone.

  5. Hi everyone,

    My wife was playing around on the internet last night and saw my name on a couple of albums by a company i’ve never heard of. They are selling several of my tracks in a compilation album. I’m fairly new to selling music so I don’t know if this is legal – anyone know if it is? Is it legal to buy music from a company and resell it?

    Thanks for any help

    Jon

    • If you are on Audiosparx, they have a relationship with Rosenklang records that you may have authorized without knowing it. Any of that sound familiar?

    • This is a pretty common occurrence in the record industry. I am not surprised that music libraries have started this practice. It is another way for these companies to make a buck. Hopefully you get paid for the usage of your music.

      • Audiosparx does pay you for the sales from Rosenklang. It’s small amounts but if you have enough sales you can buy yourself a couple of latte at Starbucks πŸ˜‰

        • It’s kinda interesting to see what Rosenklang licenses. My bestselling track turns out to be the instrumental backtrack of one of my bossanovas. I never would have dreamed of putting it on a record! Made enough for one latte!

  6. Hello guys
    Just hoping that if anyone has a minute they can look at this clause in a contract that ive been asked to sign. Its a non exclusive deal but this part doesnt seem to be non exclusive to me. Am i missing something? Ive contacted the library about it and they said its very common.
    thanks

    “You agree to comply with any β€˜non-compete’ licensing restrictions that may be imposed by an
    End User (this happens only in advertising-see glossary). We will notify You of any such usage and You
    also must notify Us of any non-compete restrictions that affect Your songs that were generated through
    another licensing agreement or company.”

    • It’s as they say. Just say a track of yours is used in a nice ad for Mercedes. The sound forms part of the branding and Merc aren’t going to want to hear the same music pop up in a Chrysler ad a month later. Generally speaking, the exclusivity would be for a limited period, say one year. But depending on the wording of the restrictions, you would generally be still free to license the music for non-car ad usage.

      So what the clause is saying is should your music be used in an ad, you will have a responsibility to inform other libraries that have that track, and also to inform this library should the track be used elsewhere with non-competing restrictions. The worst thing that could happen is two competing companies use the same track at the same time having sourced it from two different libraries. You’d be in violation of contract with the first company who licensed it.

      MichaelL or some long time ad music makers around here could clarify this more, I’m sure.

      • Hello Rob
        Thanks for taking the time to reply i appreciate it. Ok well that sounds fairly straightforward then i think it should be ok!

  7. Not sure if this has ever been discussed here and any references/help would be appreciated!

    Below is part of a contract that was sent to me after getting approved for a library. This is from a company that has tons of credits on TV and some serious clients since I found out about them on shows. Anyway, they are non-exclusive, they retitle but also want 100% copyright of the new title and to register it. I have a number of placements, dealt with a fair number of contracts so far yet I am ignorant when it comes to this exact matter. Still in the early stages of my career. Never heard of it. Thoughts? Thanks.

    “Such transfer of rights includes, without limitation, one hundred percent (100%) the copyright in the Composition(s). It is understood and agreed that the Compositions and Masters are previously existing Compositions and Masters which Publisher shall rename/re-title and the rights herein shall apply to the Compositions under such new titles (nothing herein shall prevent Writer from entering into non-exclusive agreements for the Compositions under other titles, provided such licenses do not infringe upon Publisher’s rights hereunder). The Composition(s)and Master(s) hereby granted are set forth in Schedule A hereto, which shall contain the original and the new title.”

    • Hi Rosco,

      From what I understand the only thing “copyrightable” is the composition and the recording, titles are not. They are asking you to transfer the copyright and yet you still retain the copyright? I’m not a lawyer so hopefully MichaelL will jump in but it seems to me that clause isn’t even legal. It may be that they are trying to lay claim to your song in case the retitling business model blows up (doubtful). On the face of it I wouldn’t sign it.

      • Thanks for the info Art! Hopefully we can figure it out with all of the knowledge here.

        I hope it’s not a big deal that I take up a lot of space on this thread but here is more from the contract if that helps. Thanks!

        “Writer hereby irrevocably assigns and transfers one hundred (100%) of all rights and interests of any kind in and to certain musical composition(s) (each, a “Composition”) and each recording of each such Composition (each, a “Master”), to the Publisher. Each Composition and Master shall be deemed a “work made for hire”. To the extent any such Composition or Recording is determined not to be a work made for hire for The Library, Writer hereby assigns to The Library all right, title and interest in and to such Composition(s) and Master(s) together with all rights (including copyright and other proprietary rights) in and to such Compositions and Masters throughout the universe in perpetuity. Publisher shall have the perpetual exclusive right to exploit, administer and control one hundred percent (100%) of the Composition(s) and Master(s) throughout the world in any and all formats, now known or hereafter developed, free from any claims by Writer or any other party. Such transfer of rights includes, without limitation, one hundred percent (100%) the copyright in the Composition(s). “

        • Rosco – have an entertainment attorney read it in entirety. It’s very possible for us and you to interpret something incorrectly when extracted from the context of the whole contract.

          My 2c – the paragraphs you’ve posted indicate transfer of copyright in the composition while at the same time giving you the right to enter into other agreements on the composition. AFAIK, this is not possible, because copyright belongs to the composition, not the title. Merely giving it a new title and then referring to the composition underlying the new title would not seem to be valid, as the compositions are identical.

          At face value, this is a very confused contract and I would not sign it without legal advice.

          • Thanks for the info Rob! Yeah, this is the first contract where I am thinking about hiring a copyright lawyer that I know in my area. Pretty confusing, that’s for sure.

            • Rob: Also to add to that about you mentioning “It’s very possible for us and you to interpret something incorrectly when extracted from the context of the whole contract.”

              I agree. The interesting thing about this contract is that that is the bulk of it. It’s only a few pages (2 to 3). Not 10 or 11 like some of the other ones I have dealt with that are way simpler. Crazy how that works.

        • Hi Rosco,

          I would love to know the name of this library. MLR has managed to change some libraries practices in the past but the least we could do is protect other composers from the potential ramifications of this company’s practices.

          Thanks for the heads up!

    • Hi Rosco,

      Standard disclaimer: I don’t represent you in this or any other matter. This post is my opinion only and not legal advice.

      Both Art and Rob are correct. A copyright exists in the underlying musical work NOT the title. You cannot transfer your copyright and then enter agreements with other publishers for that work, because YOU NO LONGER OWN IT!

      Despite what this library/publisher says, you are putting yourself in a position where the publisher could sue you for infringement if you actually try to license your works through another publisher.

      “(nothing herein shall prevent Writer from entering into non-exclusive agreements for the Compositions under other titles, provided such licenses do not infringe upon Publisher’s rights hereunder)” READ THE WORDS “PROVIDED SUCH LICENSES DO NOT INFRINGE UPON PUBLISHER’S RIGHTS HEREUNDER.” That is extremely broad and potentially prevents you from doing anything.

      This is NOT a good deal. IMHO, registering the same piece of music with the Library of Congress under different titles would constitute fraud. Once you enter into this deal, your music is GONE, it is no longer yours. This kind of deal preys upon desperate writers, who would sell their soul just to get a “placement.”

      Why would this library request 100% ownership of your copyright, when most non-exclusive retitling libraries DO NOT? There are several possibilities: 1) they want to sell the library for a huge chunk of change down the road, and you can’t do that if you don’t own the copyrights and 2) they think that you’re desperate and stupid.

      Any deal that requires transfer of copyright should pay you $$$ upfront. If not, I would run in the other direction as fast as possible. As I said, this is just my opinion.

      I would take Rob’s advice and have your own entertainment attorney read the contract. If you cannot afford one, many cities have volunteer lawyers for the arts.

      Best,

      Michael

      • PS. There is a third explanation, giving the library/publisher the benefit of the doubt, and that is that their contract was drawn up by a non-lawyer, or a lawyer not familiar with intellectual property law. Because the contract so effectively gives them something for nothing, I doubt it.

      • Rosco – hopefully MichaelL’s great followup helped.

        Another option is to treat this deal *AS* exclusive if you are confident in this company’s ability to place your work. Simply assume any tracks signed to them are no longer yours and don’t sign them to non-excl. deals elsewhere.

        • @ MichaelL: Thanks for the in depth explanation. I was looking forward to your response. Yeah, I basically didn’t have a good vibe from it initially and wouldn’t feel very comfortable entering into agreements after. @ Rob (Cruciform): Yeah that’s a good idea and crossed my mind. Thanks for the help MichaelL, Rob and Art! Going to move on for now and keep writing for my “go to” libraries.

          • Hi Rosco,
            I sent you a PM. I would like to know who the library is.
            FWIW, Rob is correct, you could treat the company as if it is exclusive, and not submit your tracks anywhere else. In fact, what they are offering IS an exclusive deal. They should simply be upfront, call it an exclusive deal and not try to make writers think it’s non-exclusive, IMHO.
            Good luck,
            Michael

  8. Interesting discussion. Does anyone here actually register their tracks with the
    Library of Congress

    • Once I reached about 200 songs, I stopped registering my songs. It got too expensive after that. I know that it may come back to haunt me, but not likely. I don’t think anyone is gonna infringe on my songs to the point that I would lose significant money. I would be flattered more than anything.

      The weird thing is that I hear clones of songs all of the time. I went to the Universal Music Library and heard a whole album of pop songs that copied current releases. I am pretty sure that if the artists of label discovered this, they would have a strong case. Copies of songs always appear on reality TV shows I watch.

    • I haven’t because up until now the music I’ve written has usually been commissioned by a library or other project (film, TV etc). Now that I’m in the process of building a library, I’ll start doing it for tracks that I own.

      • Hi Matt,

        Will you copyright individually, which is expensive, or by “collection,” which will allow you to cover a number of tracks under the same registration number, and save on the filing fees?

        That would make sense if you don’t anticipate splitting the tracks between publishers in the future. Even then you should be able to re-register tracks that you remove from the collection.

        Cheers,

        Michael

        • A few times a year I send off a new collection of a bunch of music to copyright. Use the online form and you can register a bunch of stuff for $35.00. I always print out the shipping slip and send in CDs instead of uploading the files. Not sure if they still do this but I believe they give you a limited time window to upload everything. All of my files wouldn’t fit.

          A cheap price to pay for protection of your IP.

        • “Will you copyright individually, which is expensive, or by “collection,” which will allow you to cover a number of tracks under the same registration number, and save on the filing fees?That would make sense if you don’t anticipate splitting the tracks between publishers in the future.” – MichaelL

          I think we debated this once before MichaelL. Please don’t take offense to this:

          A “collection” copyright registration is just as valid as a single song registration. Keep in mind, this copyright registration is yours personally (to protect you if Fed court is necessary – a snowball’s chance in H ).Let’s say you have a collection titled “Love Songs”. Contained in this collection is Song A, Song B, Song C, etc… So you sign Song A to one library and Song B to another. Each of these libraries only have rights (per contract agreements) with the specific titled track, not with any other tracks within the collection.If a library wants a copyright registration of one of these tracks, they’re free to copyright it separately.However, with the 16+ libraries I’m with, none of them asked me for a copyright. They do make it clear (in their contracts) that they expect the writer to be the sole owner of such works and have the power to negotiate library agreements with such tracks.

          Think of this copyright registration as your own personal protection. You don’t have to share it with anyone else.You paid for the protection, it’s yours.

          BTW, an entertainment attorney told me the songs contained within a “collection” registration can be split, sliced, & diced in any manner. The library has no right to any songs in a “collection” other than the specific song they have under contract.

          John

          • @(John (the Other John)
            No offense taken. There’s a lot of half right in what you said, including your entertainment attorney’s opinion.There is nothing wrong with copywriting a collection. I do it. Here’s the rub. What you are saying is perfectly OK in the non-exclusive re-titling world. That is in such a legal gray area as it is.

            No offense, but I’m going to assume that the 16 libraries that you are in fall into that category.However, if you registered a “collection” and two exclusive libraries, who expect to own the copyright to the music, like Extreme or Killer Tracks, want different parts of the collection, you would have to re-register those parts individually.

            I never said that you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, register a collection. The point is that it depends on where the music is going. In the non-exclusive world you are merely granting licenses, not transferring ownership of the copyright. The sticky, but not insurmountable part of copywriting a collection, arises when two different entities want to own different parts of the same copyright.

            “If a library wants a copyright registration of one of these tracks, they’re free to copyright it separately.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The application asks if a work has been registered previously. If the answer is yes then an explanation must be provided regarding the new copyright. And with respect to the original copyright, the “collection” is no longer that same “collective” work because a piece of it is missing. So, is the new work (remaining collection) still protected? Further, what you are saying essentially is “if the library wants a copyright that’s their problem.” In my experience businesses like to avoid problems. So maybe that’s not the approach to take.

            “However, with the 16+ libraries I’m with, none of them asked me for a copyright.”That is most likely because they are non-exclusive and as such you are granting them licenses. And, they in turn sublicense to their clients/buyers.Do you see the difference?

            Cheers,

            Michael

            PS. An “entertainment attorney” and an intellectual property attorney are two different specialties. Sometimes they overlap. However IP law covers trademarks, patents and copyrights and really is a distinct area of expertise. So, I would advise consulting with an IP attorney on the issue.

            • “If a library wants a copyright registration of one of these tracks, they’re free to copyright it separately.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The application asks if a work has been registered previously. If the answer is yes then an explanation must be provided regarding the new copyright.” – MichaelL

              Then in that scenario one would simply leave an explanation. I don’t really see any pitfalls in multiple copyright registrations – as long as the composer remains honest.

              Half of my libraries are exclusive, the other half non-exclusive. Yeah, I know, there are “exclusives”, then there are “EXCLUSIVES”.

              Best, John πŸ™‚

              • @John (The Other John)

                I know that joined the MLR just so that you could keep arguing with me about copyright law! πŸ˜†

                Best,

                Michael

                • “I know that joined the MLR just so that you could keep arguing with me about copyright law!” – MichaelL

                  Yeah, I’ve always been a wannabe lawyer. I’ll have to settle with arguing with one. πŸ˜€ Though I’d rather call it “debating”.

                  Best, John πŸ™‚

  9. I know that I have discussed to this issue before. BUT…I was just on another forum where
    a composer advised another writer that he could save money by doing a “poor man’s copyright.”
    i.e., mailing a copy of your music to yourself.

    NO NO NO, a thousand times NO. This is a useless myth that carries no legal weight. Your music is copy-written at the moment of creation. BUT…it is not registered. In order to sue
    someone for copyright infringement you MUST have a registered copyright. If you do not have a registered copyright you cannot sue. It’s that simple. The poor mans copyright is NOT a substitute for a registered copyright in any way shape of form.

    Michael

    • Yes, definitely won’t work in the USA Federal court, but a composer told me the “Poor Man’s Copyright” holds up in the UK court. Wonder if the advisor is from another Country.

      • No it will NOT hold up in the UK either
        the whole notion of a poor man’s copyright is an extremely dangerous myth!

        • Are you from the UK LL? In the UK there is no system available to register a copyright work for it to be protected. The ‘poor man’s copyright” is just one of many proof of ownerships. Maybe not the most convincing, but it appears it can be used in UK court.

          • John (the Other John) Copyright “protection” is a bit of a misnomer. You own the copyright to your works at the moment of creation. BUT…if you ever want to sue someone for infringement, the work in question MUST be registered. As they said in law school, a copyright registration is your “ticket” into federal court. The registration is the minimum threshold requirement for entry into the courts. It’s really neither a suite of armor or a sword. You still have to prove infringement — for which there are a number of defenses. All of which often takes for more money and time than it’s worth. Unless you’re talking about a hit song –for which the damages could be in the millions.

            Cheers, Michael

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