Music Law 101: What Rights Does A Copyright Owner Have?

So you’ve already written and recorded a song and determined who owns it, but now what can you as an owner do with it?  What rights in the song do you have, that no one else does?

The owner of the copyright in a work has certain exclusive rights in that work, rights that no one else but the owner has, including the rights to:

  • Reproduce/copy the work;
  • Adapt and prepare derivative works based on the work;
  • Distribute copies of the work;
  • Perform or display a musical work publicly; and
  • Perform a sound recording publicly by digital audio transmissions.

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What Every Band Needs To Know

Last week, Brooks Pierce participated in CD Baby’s DIY Musician Conference in Nashville.  We hosted legal clinics, served as mentors,  gave out free copies of our Musician’s Legal Handbook, and presented a legal workshop on band agreements.

Our legal workshop covered important legal issues for bands to consider.  Here’ s a description of our presentation:

Music Law 101:  What Every Band Needs to Know

Most bands don’t begin their musical journeys expecting to have disputes. But good bands do go bad, and disputes over songs, band names, finances, and other creative and business matters occur regularly.  Brooks Pierce attorneys Coe W. Ramsey, Thomas Varnum and Amanda Whorton will discuss important legal issues for band members to consider, including ownership of the band’s songs and recordings, protection and use of the band’s name, rights to band income, partnerships and accounting claims, whether your band should incorporate, determining who are the “members” of your band, and whether you should have a formal band agreement among the band members and with side musicians. This insightful and relevant workshop will cover copyright law, trademark law, contract law, partnership and corporate law, and other relevant laws to help your band gain the tools it needs to avoid messy legal disputes down the road.

Copies of the slides from our presentation are available here.

Music Law 101: Who Owns the Copyright in a Song?

After your band has written and recorded a song, who actually owns the song?  This simple question does not necessarily have a simple answer.  How many people were involved in the writing process?  Were there other people involved in the recording process?  Did you hire a producer?  Did you use other background vocalists or musicians in the studio?  Did you use “work made for hire” agreements with individuals involved in the process?  Do you have a band agreement?  The answers to these and other important questions help determine who actually owns the copyrights in any given song. Continue reading “Music Law 101: Who Owns the Copyright in a Song?”

Music Law 101: Protect Your Music, Protect Yourself

We are pleased to introduce a new blog series.  Music Law 101 will be a recurring bi-weekly series consisting of posts covering a wide variety of legal topics relevant to artists, musicians, songwriters, producers, and others in the music industry.  Topics will include information on copyright law, trademark law, the right of publicity, laws relating to agents and managers, and music contract law.

With the Music Law 101 series, we intend to break down legal jargon to make the concepts useful to you as you create, perform, and distribute music.  We want to help you Protect Your Music and Protect Yourself.

What Does Copyright Law Protect?

Copyright law can be confusing.  This inaugural post provides an introduction to copyright law for musicians and addresses the often misunderstood issue of what exactly copyright law protects. Continue reading “Music Law 101: Protect Your Music, Protect Yourself”

Second Circuit Affirms “Fractional Licensing” Decision

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the ASCAP and BMI antitrust consent decrees do not prohibit “fractional licensing” of songs.  Fractional licensing means that if there are non-ASCAP or non-BMI songwriters who have partial rights in a particular song, ASCAP and BMI can license only the fraction of the song attributable to the ASCAP or BMI songwriters.  The other fractional interests of the song would have to be licensed elsewhere (for example, from SESAC or GMR).

Particularly with the recent advent of Global Music Rights (GMR), music licensees (such as broadcasters, websites, restaurants, bars, retail establishments, fitness clubs, and etc.) are concerned that the ruling could lead to additional performance rights licensing organizations (“PROs”), and in turn higher collective licensing fees (and exposure to potential copyright infringement claims to the extent such additional licenses are not secured).

It’s too early to tell what the practical effect of this ruling may be in the music licensing marketplace.

“Haters Gonna Hate, Hate . . . .”  Can Taylor Swift “Shake it Off”?

On September 18, 2017, songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler filed a lawsuit against Taylor Swift in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Hall and Butler are the co-authors of the 2000 song “Playas Gon’ Play” which was recorded by the girl group 3LW.  Their complaint alleges that Taylor Swift’s 2014 hit song “Shake it Off” copied “Playas Gon’ Play.”

A copy of the complaint is available here.

Unlike the recent barrage of music copyright lawsuits, this lawsuit does not claim that the melody, “hook,” or other musical elements were copied.  Rather, this lawsuit claims that Swift’s song copied the plaintiffs’ lyrics.

Playas Gon’ Play” contains the following lyrical phrase:

Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate.

The plaintiffs claim that Taylor Swift infringed their song by using the following lyrical phrase in “Shake it Off”:

Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

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Mark Ronson Sued For Infringing 80’s Funk “Masterpiece”

On September 12, 2017, the publisher of the legendary song “More Bounce to the Ounce” filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against music producer Mark Ronson.  The suit alleges that Ronson’s hit song “Uptown Funk,” which has been certified 11 times platinum and held the number 1 position on Billboard’s Hot 100 for fourteen consecutive weeks, infringes Roger Troutman’s and the funk group Zapp’s 1980 song “More Bounce to the Ounce.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims that “Uptown Funk” copied elements from an extended passage of “More Bounce” that constitutes more than one half, and is the “heart,” of “More Bounce.”  The suit claims that “virtually the entire guitar part, bass melody and vocoder part of Uptown Funk, (as well as the combination and sequence of these elements in Uptown Funk), is copied from this continuous passage of More Bounce to the Ounce.”

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Former Band Member Sues The Roots

Frank “Knuckles” Walker, a musician and percussionist best known as a former member of the band The Roots, recently filed a lawsuit against his former band members and others.

A copy of the complaint is available here.

According to Walker’s complaint, he was a member of The Roots for 17 years and was terminated from the band in May 2017.  Walker alleges that he was unfairly compensated and that the other band members terminated him from the band in order to exclude him from future income.  Walker also alleges that after expelling him from The Roots, the band continued to use his likeness and images in concert posters and on the band’s website and social media without Walker’s permission.

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Court Rejects Infringement Claim Against Alan Jackson

On October 27, 2016, North Carolina songwriter Timothy Arnett sued the legendary country star Alan Jackson in the Eastern District of North Carolina for alleged copyright infringement.  Arnett claimed that Jackson’s song “Remember When” infringed Arnett’s song “Remember Me.”

Yesterday, August 14, 2017, the Court dismissed Arnett’s lawsuit.  A copy of the Court’s order is available here.

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“Thinking Out Loud” About Copyright Infringement (Again)

Ed Sheeran has had plenty of court troubles recently.  After reportedly reaching a settlement over his song “Photographearlier this year, he was recently sued (a second time) for his song “Thinking Out Loud.”

The lawsuit alleges that “Thinking Out Loud” copied Marvin Gaye’s song “Let’s Get it On.”

The lawsuit, which was brought by the heirs of Gaye’s co-writer Ed Townsend, was first filed in August 2016 and later dismissed in February 2017 on the grounds that Sheeran (and others in the UK) were not served within the required time frame.  Apparently the plaintiffs struggled to serve Sheeran due to the refusal of defendants’ counsel to accept service on behalf of the defendants, confusion over international service procedures under the Hague Convention, and the inability of the plaintiffs to personally locate Sheeran to hand-deliver service.

Presumably in anticipation of the opportunity to locate and personally serve Sheeran in the US during his upcoming 2017 US tour, the new complaint was filed on July 11, 2017.  It worked this time, as the defendants’ counsel has accepted service for Sheeran.

The new complaint is virtually identical to the August 2016 complaint.  A copy of the new complaint, which was filed in the Southern District of New York is available here.

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