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Bidding On Music: 3 Things You Need To Know About Copyright Law

Both artists and consumers alike have to worry about copyright laws.  If you’re the creator of a song or score, you want to ensure that your work is legally protected when you place it online for the world to listen to. If you’re a consumer who wants to use the music in a project, such as a movie, short film or even a simple vlog on YouTube, copyright laws can make or break you. If you aren’t sure about the ownership status of a song or composition and use it in something that you later publish without permission, even by citing the original creator, you can find yourself facing serious legal consequences.

Performance Rights

Many live musicians think that they are able to perform any song they want at any venue or any time, since it’s just a cover, which they usually announce before plunging into the vocals. In reality, song owners are entitled to collect the royalties from all performances of their songs, which means that musicians need a license to perform them.  A professional, like those at Lane and Waterman LLP, can provide counsel on copyright registration and enforcement.   If you are wondering whether or not the song you want to use is copyrighted, it’s best to get legal advice. 

Many live performance venues allow bands to play covers during a gig because they have purchased a broad cover license from a major performance rights organization such as ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI. These licenses also affect the music that you hear overhead at restaurants or malls. Business owners and venues must hold a performance license to provide any type of music to their customers. If you are an owner or checking out spots for your next performance, make sure that you have the required licensure.

Making Changes to Others’ Songs

While many cover artists may change the pitch or the key or a song in order to take artistic license, any changes to the melody, lyrics or any other aspect of the composition that alters the fundamental elements of the song must be approved of by the owners first. Getting in contact for this type of meeting often requires payment, so plan ahead if you’ve got a twist to a top hit planned and want the rights to add your own flair.

Fair Use

Fair use of music has become a more widespread topic over the past years thanks to the integration of iTunes and YouTube into modern society, but the concept is still vague and misunderstood by the public. Fair use doesn’t have one distinct line. It is usually judged on a case-by-case basis using a four factor system. Fair use determination includes considerations of whether or not the use is for commercial gain or non-profit/educational purposes, as well as how the use will affect the original work’s value.

Unless you have permission to print, broadcast, distribute or perform someone else’s music, then the general rule of thumb should be to refrain and make sure that you are not in violation of any copyright laws. Even friends distributing CDs or musicians lending others another artist’s sheet music can be considered copyright infringement, as this ultimately leads to the original artist earning less on each music sale.

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