Category: Royalties

Bieber and Usher Not Feeling the Love over $10 Million Copyright Lawsuit

The Music Pitch

Songwriters Devin Copeland and Mareio Overton have filed a $10 million copyright lawsuit against Justin Bieber and Usher over their hit single, “Somebody to Love.”  This sordid ditty begins back in 2008 when Copeland and Overton claim they first recorded the song for Copeland’s album, “My Story II,” and registered the copyright.  Music scouts Sangreel Media, in a conference call with Copeland, then pitched their copyrighted music to Jonetta Patton, Usher’s mother.  This presentation led to Patton telling Copeland that Usher wanted Copeland to re-record the album and tour with him.  But Copeland never from Patton again and Sangreel Media never returned the copies of his music.

The Copyright Infringement

Bieber copyright infringement
Bieber and the Law

Fast forward to 2010 and when Overton first heard Justin Bieber’s version of the song on the radio.  Overton contacted Copeland believing their song had been “clearly copied.”  Their copyright lawsuit claims that Usher and other songwriters directly copied “Somebody to Love” and tried to pass if off as their own.  This occurred after Patton never followed up on her offer for Copeland to tour with Usher and Sangreel Media never returned copies of his music.  Usher uploaded the demo track to YouTube by February 2010, but did not use it for his album.  He instead offered it Bieber, a YouTube sensation at the time working on his first full-length album.  The lawsuit alleges Bieber agreed to record the infringing version of “Somebody to Love” and Usher provided the background vocals.  The song was an immediate hit and Usher went on to release a remix with him singing lead and Bieber performing backup.

“Somebody to Love,” ultimately, helped propel Bieber up the charts.  He performed it at the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards, the Today Show, and other television appearances.  It also became a backbone for Bieber’s “Believe” tour.

The Lawsuit

Copeland and Overton ‘believe’ many similarities exist between their version and Bieber’s according to the lawsuit.  This includes opening lyrics that are nearly identical and the same beat pattern.  They claim that that Bieber’s copyright infringing song has been exploited through the sale of albums and singles, but also through the sale of sheet music and live concert performances.

Their lawsuit demands $10 million in compensation from Bieber, Usher, Usher’s mother, and others.  They also want punitive damages on top of the $10 million because of the heinous nature of the copyright infringement.  Copeland and Overton have stated that they are not willing to settle the lawsuit unless it’s proven in court that they are owed less, too.

A big payday awaits if Copeland and Overton can prove their copyright infringement claims in court.  The lawsuit also shows the importance of songwriters and composers registering the copyright to your music.

–          Ari Good, Esq.

Ari Good, JD LLM, a tax, aviation and entertainment lawyer, is the Shareholder of Good Attorneys At Law, P.A.  Ari Mr. Good received his BA, With Distinction, from the University of Michigan in 1993.  He graduated from the DePaul University College of Law in 1997 and received his LL.M. in Taxation from the University of Florida.  Ari represents DJs, live musicians, fashion models and other entertainers in copyright, licensing and contract matters.

Image by Mt. T in DC

The Six Rights of Copyright – Part IV: The Right to Publicly Perform

The Right to Publicly Perform is the fourth part in our series on what makes a Copyright.  The prior three rights reviewed are linked below for you to get up to speed.  To refresh, the six parts of copyright are:

  • The right to reproduce the copyrighted work
  • The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • The right to distribute copies of the work to the public
  • The right to publicly perform the copyrighted work
  • The right to publicly display the copyrighted work
  • (sound recording only) The right to digitally transmit to publicly perform the copyrighted work

To try to get behind the curtain of copyright, we’re individually exploring each of these six rights.  An understanding of each and how they operate will allow you, the creator, to be in a better position to take advantage of your copyright.

There are a couple words of caution.  First, the practical effect of these exclusive rights will depend on the type of copyrighted work (literary works, musical works, motion pictures, sound recordings, etc.).  Second, these are exclusive rights.  The law allows only the copyright holder to exercise these rights.

IV.  The Right to Publicly Perform the Copyrighted Work

 

The right to publicly perform means only the copyright owners, or others they authorize, may perform their works publicly. 

 

This right prohibits would be thieves from performing a copyrighted work before the masses and profiting from that theft.  As an exclusive right, anyone wishing to perform a copyrighted work publicly must first obtain permission from the copyright owners.   Copyright owners, at least in the music industry, are often different from the people who created the work in the first place.  How far this right extends depends on answering two questions.

  1. What acts does a performance cover?
  2. When is that performance public?

The definition of performance under the Copyright Act goes beyond the usual examples of live works.  

 

Right to Publicly Perform
Live Public Performance

The term performance certainly covers situations when a person executes a copyrighted work live.  Examples of this include a band playing music in front of a crowd, a theater company performing a ballet before an audience, or people watching a film at the movie theater.  However, it also covers analog or digital transmission of performances by radio, television, and internet streaming.  Examples of transmitted performances include a song played on the radio, a recording of the ballet played on television, and a film screened for locals at a community park.  A performance occurs when the work is done live and when someone transmits a recording of the work.

The definition of public under the Copyright Act means any group beyond family and close friends.

 

A performance is public when the work is performed: (1) in a place open to the public, or (2) at a place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances are gathered.  In plain English, music you play for your family (3rd cousins need not apply) or close friends (not everyone on your Facebook friends list) will be a private performance.  Putting out flyers for your upcoming rendition of Britney Spears’ greatest hits, however, would be a public performance.  A performance is also public when you transmit the copyrighted work to a general audience.  This happens when a radio station plays a song, a television show includes that song during a dramatic break up scene, or you stream the song from your internet radio station.  Transmission of a performance will be public unless you restrict it to only your family or close friends.  As a general rule, live or recorded performances that can reach more than a few people will be public performances.

The traditional right to public performance applies to musical works, but not sound recordings.

 

Copyright owners of musical works (songwriters and music publishers) gain the traditional right to public performance.  Copyright owners of sound recordings (record labels), however, are left out in the cold.  A musical work is the composition, arrangement, lyrics, and other details that embody a song.  A sound recording is a specific performance of that musical work.  A musical work results when a band gets together to create an album.  A sound recording results when that same band goes into the studio to record the album.  The practical effect of this distinction is that analog radio stations must obtain a license only for musical works before playing songs on the air.  They don’t need permission from the owners of sound recordings that they actually broadcast.  This is true even though radio stations would have nothing to play without these sound recordings.

Three U.S. Performance Rights Organizations (PRO’s) (BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC) handle the vast majority of licensing and royalty issues for musical works.  There is a vast sea of musical works out there.  PRO’s strive to organize this complex network by licensing musical works on behalf of songwriters and bands.  The PRO’s then collect royalties for the licenses and send checks to the songwriters and bands.  The PRO’s are certainly not charitable entities, however, and take a cut of the royalties to cover the expenses in managing the system.  Some would say too big of a cut.

This oddity of the traditional public performance right has its roots in the history of Copyright.  Copyright protection existed long before people could record music and sheet music (an example of musical works) was the standard.  Copyright protection for musical works was necessary at that time, but obviously not so for non-existent sound recordings.  Copyright law failed to keep up with evolving technology, however, when sound recordings emerged to provide people with a different way to access music.

Congress tried to fix the problem by passing the Digital Performance in Sound Recordings Act (DPSRA).  This created the sixth right of Copyright: the right to perform publicly by digital transmission.  The DPSRA did provide relief for sound recording owners, but also created a volatile two-class system.  Internet radio stations like Pandora and Spotify now have to obtain licenses and pay royalties to copyright owners of musical and sound recordings.  Analog radio stations, on the other hand, continue to enjoy preferential treatment and only have to answer to copyright owners of musical works.  Analog radio stations have a huge financial advantage over internet radio stations as a result.

The right to public performance does have its limitations.

 

For every rule, there are exceptions.  The right to public performance is no different.  Charitable, non-profit, and educational groups may publicly perform copyrighted works without permission if it’s for a reason recognized by law.  Certain businesses may also play copyrighted music without permission for their customers if they play by the rules.

  • The business must receive the music from a licensed radio, cable, satellite, or television broadcast;
  • The business must be on the smaller side;
  • The business must play it only in their establishment;
  • The business cannot charge an admission fee.

A club that charges admission to listen to a recording of the latest, greatest pop album is not going to fall into this exception.  The ubiquitous Fair Use exception to copyright protection can come into play for the public performance right, too.

That’s a lot to go over!  Go ahead and ask questions if you have them, or leave a comment if have an interesting anecdote about the public performance right.

–          Ari Good, Esq.

Ari Good, JD LLM, a tax, aviation and entertainment lawyer, is the Shareholder of Good Attorneys At Law, P.A.  Ari Mr. Good received his BA, With Distinction, from the University of Michigan in 1993.  He graduated from the DePaul University College of Law in 1997 and received his LL.M. in Taxation from the University of Florida.  Ari represents DJs, live musicians, fashion models and other entertainers in copyright, licensing and contract matters.

Image by Wootang01

Royalty Free Samples: A Peculiar Problem of Producing Music

A common question from DJs and music producers is: “what right do I have to create and protect my own music using ‘royalty free’ samples, beats, and loops?”  Can you copyright work that you derive from these sources?  The simple answer is yes, if certain requirements are met.  This situation is a textbook example of derivative works and rights (one of the six exclusive rights of copyright).  Artists can copyright derivative musical works as long as they had the necessary permission to use the original source material.  Let’s break down the issue in detail:

Royalty Free
DJ Equipment

1.      The source material must be “royalty free”, or really, “royalties paid”, for you to use them in your own music.

 

As a refresher, there are typically two parties in music business who own the bundle of rights we call “copyright” and would want a royalty if their music is used.  The first are the owners of the musical compositions themselves (the arrangement, lyrics, etc.), typically music publishing companies, who have purchased these rights from the original musicians.  The second are the owners of the master recordings, typically the record labels.

Say, for example, you wanted to use a sample from the Rolling Stones song Shattered from their studio album, Some Girls (and who wouldn’t?).  You would need to obtain permission from (and pay royalties to): (1) the Rolling Stones’ music publisher, for the music composition, and (2) the Rolling Stones’ record label, for the master rights to the recording.  (Quiz: if you recorded your own version of Shattered, you would only need to obtain permission from the Rolling Stones’ music publisher, since the master recording is no longer involved).

Now, in the case of commercially available loops and samples, it’s usually a bit of a misnomer that samples you purchase are royalty free.  Rather, the company offering the loops has paid the necessary royalty or royalties that allows them to copy and resell the loops to you.  You, as the loop buyer, may then use the loops to create derivative works.  Getting beyond use, however, requires some additional steps.

2.      In order to protect your new creation, the loop seller’s terms and conditions must grant you the right not only to use and make derivative works, but also to copy the royalty free source material.

 

You must have permission to copy and prepare derivative works from royalty free source material before you can copyright your new creation. The following is an example of terms and conditions that give you the right to use your loops to create derivative works and copy the material into your own, protectable creation:

The Sounds remain the property of its manufacturer and/or Loopmasters Limited. (Collectively, “Licensor”) and are licensed to you as the original end-user (“Licensee”), for use subject to the provisions below. All rights not expressly granted herein are reserved exclusively by Licensor.

The Sounds in a category of ‘Sample Pack’:

1.  The Licensee may use the Sounds in combination with other sounds in music productions (which include soundtracks of such as films, video productions, radio/TV programs or commercials, computer games and multimedia presentations, library music), public performances, and other reasonable musical purposes within musical compositions.

English:  You can use the loops in multiple ways, when combined with other music.

2.  The Licensee may modify the Sounds and may use the Sounds for commercial purposes as part of a musical composition with other sounds.

English:  You can alter the loops and use them in your own musical creations.

3.  The Licensee MAY NOT use the Sounds in isolation as sound effects (i.e. a sequence of musical events) or within any competitive products that are sold or relicensed to multiple third parties.  In these scenarios, the Licensee must arrange an extension with Loopmasters Limited.

English: You can’t just take our loops, then turn around and use them other than as something of your own.  Also, you can’t just turn around and resell our loops again without talking to us first.

4.  A right to use the sounds is granted only to the Licensee and is NOT transferable. This license expressly forbids resale, re-licensing or other distribution of the Sounds, either as they exist or any modification thereof. You cannot sell, loan, rent, lease, assign, upload to or download from any server, or transfer all or any of the enclosed sounds to another user, or for use in any competitive product.

English: Only you, not others, can use the loops.

5.  Licensor will not be responsible if the sounds does not fit the particular purpose of the Licensee.

English: If you’re not happy with the loops, tough luck.

PLEASE NOTE:

This is a general licence which covers all Loopmasters products, it may not apply to products from other labels that we represent at Loopmasters.com – if in doubt please email us or contact the label directly.

English: If you’re unsure that you’re using the loops properly, ask before that use.

You can only copyright musical derivative works if you have the necessary license for the royalty free source material.

3.      The musical derivative work must be substantially different from the royalty free source material.

 

Although it’s common sense, a work must be noticeably different from the royalty free source material to be derivative.  A purchased music sample is not a derivative work unless you somehow alter, transform, or adapt it.  This is usually not a problem for DJs, who may merge multiple samples or layer their own musical ideas over the sample.  Even the act of arranging different samples in a unique way is enough.  Your editorial idea for the arrangement is the added element making it a new, derivative work.

You can only copyright derivative works if they are substantially different from the royalty free source material.

4.      Derivative works do not have copyright over the royalty free source material.

 

It’s worth noting that creating a derivative work from royalty free samples, drum beats, or loops doesn’t give you copyright to the source material.  You don’t become free to do whatever you want with the source material once you create a derivative work.  This means that you can’t sell, give away, or publicly play the source material as a stand alone.  Your rights to the source material only cover its use in your new creation.

If you have any questions about royalty free music that were not discussed, leave a comment and I’ll respond.

 

–          Ari Good, Esq.

Ari Good, JD LLM, a tax, aviation and entertainment lawyer, is the Shareholder of Good Attorneys At Law, P.A.  Ari Mr. Good received his BA, With Distinction, from the University of Michigan in 1993.  He graduated from the DePaul University College of Law in 1997 and received his LL.M. in Taxation from the University of Florida.  Ari represents DJs, live musicians, fashion models and other entertainers in copyright, licensing and contract matters.

Image by BeingAgentMom

The Six Rights of Copyright – Part III: The Right to Prepare Derivative Works

This is the third part in our series on what makes a copyright.  If you’re just jumping in, take a look at the first two parts linked below to get caught up.  To refresh, the six parts of copyright are:

  • The right to reproduce the copyrighted work
  • The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • The right to distribute copies of the work to the public
  • The right to publicly perform the copyrighted work
  • The right to publicly display the copyrighted work
  • (sound recording only) The right to digitally transmit to publicly perform the copyrighted work

To try to get behind the curtain of copyright, we’re individually exploring each of these six rights.  An understanding of each of these rights and how they operate will allow you, the creator, to be in a better position to take advantage of your copyright.

There are a couple words of caution.  First, the practical effect of these exclusive rights will depend on the type of copyrighted work (literary works, musical works, motion pictures, sound recordings, etc.).  Second, these are exclusive rights.  The law allows only the copyright holder to exercise these rights.

III.  The Right to Prepare Derivative Works

A derivative work starts with a pre-existing, copyrighted work.  A different author then recasts, transforms, or adapts it to create something new and original.  The exclusive right to prepare derivative works is also known as the adaptation right.  As an exclusive right, the copyright owner of the pre-existing work alone has authority to prepare derivative works.  Derivative rights also tend to overlap with the reproduction right because you’re reproducing a part of the original in the derivative work.  The derivative right exists primarily to prevent others from stealing your ideas for their gain.  It also works, however, to stop others from changing the meaning of an original work unless they have the author’s permission.

Derivative Rights
Mona Lisa with a Moustache – A Derivative Work

Derivative works come in many shapes and forms.  Mona Lisa with a Moustache is a famous scholarly example, but films from Harry Potter to the Godfather are ripped from the pages of books.  Hip hop is rife with beats, samples, and lyrics taken from earlier songs (although this musical practice has been going on for ages).  Even the popular Ecards with sarcastic messages on Facebook are derivative works.  Adaption may also occur when there is a:

      • Translation
        • Dramatization
  • Fictionalization
  • Editorial revisions
  • Annotations
  • Elaborations
  • Abridgment

Compilations (musical or factual) are NOT derivative works, but can still enjoy copyright protection under a different part of the law.

Copyright protection extends to derivative works, just as it does to the original work.  This protection, however, only covers the new and original material added to a pre-existing work. There must also be a substantial difference between the new and original work.  Creating a derivative work doesn’t give that creator any ownership over the original work.  It also doesn’t enlarge or extend the copyright protection of the original work.  The following is an example to illustrate the point:

Mario Puzzo originally penned The Godfather as a book in 1962 by Mario Puzzo.  The book Godfather has copyright protection.  Francis Ford Coppala and Mr. Puzzo took this pre-existing work, with Mr. Puzzo’s permission, and adapted it into a screenplay.  The screenplay Godfather also has copyright protection as a derivative work, but only for the new and original material.  Mr. Coppala did not gain ownership rights to the book, and Mr. Puzzo did not get added time for his copyright to the book.  The 1972 movie Godfather, in turn, was a derivative work of the pre-existing screenplay with its own copyright protection.  The two Godfather sequels also were derivative works of screenplays (these screenplays also being derivative works of the original Godfather film).

Derivative works are very common to the entertainment industry.  We could create an equally complex scenario as the Godfather example above for many musical works.

As a finale note, people can potentially invade your right to prepare derivative if they’re making Fair Use of your copyrighted work.  In plain English, people can make limited, derivative copies of pre-existing works if it’s legitimately done for educational, commentary, criticism, parody, or other similar reasons.  Technically speaking, Mona Lisa with a Moustache would be a potential example of a parody that is also fair use (if copyright protected the original Mona Lisa).

The world of derivative works is an extraordinarily complex area of law and this article only touches upon its diversity.  Artists file lawsuits everyday claiming copyright infringement and derivative rights are a big part of the reason.  Just ask the label for the Harlem Shake.

What other current and popular work out there can you think that may violate a creator’s derivative right?

–          Ari Good, Esq.

Ari Good, JD LLM, a tax, aviation and entertainment lawyer, is the Shareholder of Good Attorneys At Law, P.A.  Ari Mr. Good received his BA, With Distinction, from the University of Michigan in 1993.  He graduated from the DePaul University College of Law in 1997 and received his LL.M. in Taxation from the University of Florida.  Ari represents DJs, live musicians, fashion models and other entertainers in copyright, licensing and contract matters.

The Six Rights of Copyright – Part II: The Right to Distribute

This is the second part in our series on what makes a copyright: the Right to Distribute.  If you’ve not already been so kind, have a look at Part I (the right to reproduce the work).  To refresh, the six parts of copyright are:

  • The right to reproduce the copyrighted work
  • The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • The right to distribute copies of the work to the public
  • The right to publicly perform the copyrighted work
  • The right to publicly display the copyrighted work
  • (sound recording only) The right to digitally transmit to publicly perform the copyrighted work

To try to get behind the curtain of copyright, we’re going to individually explore each of these six rights.  An understanding of each of these rights and how they operate will allow you, the creator, to be in a better position to take advantage of your copyright.

There are a couple words of caution.  First, the practical effect of these exclusive rights will depend on the type of copyrighted work (literary works, musical works, motion pictures, sound recordings, etc.).  Second, these are exclusive rights.  The law allows only the copyright holder to exercise these rights.

II.  The Right to Distribute

Right to Distribute
Distribution at Work

The exclusive right to distribute ensures that only you, or someone you authorize, can lawfully share your copyrighted work.  Distribution not only covers direct sales of things like CD’s, DVD’s, and music files, but also their leasing, rental, and lending.  This right, when paired with the right to reproduce, gives financial teeth to copyright protection.  Only you, the copyright owner, can profit from the distribution of your copyrighted work through its sale, lease, or rental.  An obvious violation of this right occurs when another sells your work without permission, but also occurs when it is given away, too.  Peer to peer file sharing, internet piracy, and posting to a website are all common examples.

The right also lets you control how the work is distributed.  The copyright owner, for instance, can dictate the price for a sale, the stores where someone can make a purchase, or if he/she lets someone borrow and use it for charitable reasons.

An important restriction on the distribution right is the Doctrine of First Sale.  Once a person buys a physical copy of the copyrighted work, they can resell or otherwise do away with the copy as they see fit.  A buyer, after purchasing a CD for example, owns that CD but not the copyright to the music itself.  They can resell it at a garage sale, give it to a friend, or even use it as a target for skeet shooting. First Sale is the mechanism that allows Netflix and Blockbuster to rent out physical copies (not internet streaming) of movies.   The right to first public distribution is another way of thinking and naming the issue.

The First Sale Doctrine, however, is not without its own limitations:

  • First Sale Doctrine only applies if a copy was lawfully made and sold under the U.S. Copyright Act.  The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether the Copyright Act can ever apply to copyrighted works made overseas.
  • First Sale Doctrine does not permit a person to rent out Computer software or CD’s they’ve purchased.
  • More recently, a federal court also ruled that First Sale Doctrine does not allow the resale of digital music files.

As a finale note, people can potentially invade your right to distribution if they’re making Fair Use.  In plain English, people can make limited distribution of copyrighted works if it’s legitimately done for educational, commentary, criticism, parody, or other similar reasons.

Chime in with any questions or comments that you may have about the right to distribute.

–          Ari Good, Esq.

Ari Good, JD LLM, a tax, aviation and entertainment lawyer, is the Shareholder of Good Attorneys At Law, P.A.  Ari Mr. Good received his BA, With Distinction, from the University of Michigan in 1993.  He graduated from the DePaul University College of Law in 1997 and received his LL.M. in Taxation from the University of Florida.  Ari represents DJs, live musicians, fashion models and other entertainers in copyright, licensing and contract matters.