Legal Advisory Board Member Spotlight: Music Law Pro

This week we’d like to introduce you to Copyright Alliance’s Legal Advisory Board (LAB) Member Music Law Pro.

What motivated your firm to become a member of the Copyright Alliance Legal Advisory Board (LAB)?

Many musicians aren’t comfortable talking to music lawyers due to the uncertainty of high hourly rates. To combat this, Music Law Pro provides membership-based and upfront fixed-fee services to ensure that we are available to help clients when they need it for a budget they can plan in advance. We were motivated to join the Copyright Alliance Legal Advisory Board to further that purpose. Our music attorneys have an ear on the pulse of the industry to help best protect our client’s rights and maximize revenue for their music careers. We look forward to working with the Copyright Alliance and supporting its music-related members as they seek to better protect their rights.

What are some of the most significant copyright concerns that you’ve witnessed the creator community face today?

There are a wide range of copyright concerns that cross our desks. Many people simply wish to protect their rights, but don’t know how or where to start. With the recent chain of copyright infringement cases (e.g., cases involving songs like “Blurred Lines,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Dark Horse,” and “Thinking Out Loud”), some are afraid of inadvertently copying someone else’s music and want to learn more about the consequences of potential infringement and how to double check themselves. Others want to sample music in their projects and need assistance with licensing. With all these differing concerns, it generally boils down to protecting their own rights and navigating the industry while respecting the rights of others.

Why is strong and effective copyright protection so important to your firm’s creator clients and constituents?

Copyright protection exists automatically in original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. However, there are many benefits to registering works with the U.S. Copyright Office, so we strongly encourage registering to take advantage of such benefits. Benefits include:

  • Public Record of Copyright Ownership. Registration of a work with the Copyright Office establishes a public record of a copyright claim. Such record includes key facts about authorship and ownership, the name and address of the copyright owner, the year of creation, and whether the work has been published.
  • Ability to Enforce Your Rights. Federal copyright registration allows copyright owners to enforce their rights in court because an official copyright registration (or refusal) is required to file a claim for copyright infringement in the U.S.
  • Eligibility for Statutory Damages and Attorney’s Fees. A copyright owner is eligible for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement and attorney’s fees associated with a copyright infringement action if the work at issue was timely registered with the Copyright Office.  In general, timely registration means prior to infringement or within three (3) months after publication.

There are many important legal implications to consider when preparing a copyright application. Our music attorneys can guide music creators through the application to ensure their music is best protected.

What pending copyright-related legislation and/or court cases are you monitoring most closely now, and why?

Our music lawyers are closely following all matters related to music generated using artificial intelligence (“AI”). There are a number of rights involved when creating music using AI. In addition to concerns in connection with the content used to create AI-generated music (e.g., underlying musical compositions, sound recordings, and artists’ likenesses and/or voices), there are also concerns in connection with the so-called “source material” (i.e., the content and data used to train AI software).  Failure to obtain the proper licenses for each area of concern could potentially open creators up to liability for copyright infringement, violation of an individual’s right of publicity, trademark infringement, and more. Despite the potential legal hurdles, AI can be a useful tool in creating music!  Whether it’s being used to assist in production or to create new music inspired by your favorite artist, the benefits of AI have the potential to outweigh the concerns, provided that all involved parties’ rights are properly cleared.  Rather than stifling this new form of technology, Music Law Pro aims to provide a license structure that allows creators to utilize the technology to their benefit. AI developers and music creators who want help with licensing, or simply have questions about AI-generated music should have knowledgeable and experienced music lawyers on their team to guide them through the process. Interested creators can learn more about how we can help by reading our blog or contacting us for more information.

If there was one thing that you wished the public understood more clearly about copyright, what would that be?

A fundamental concept regarding copyrights in the music industry is understanding that there are two copyrights involved in every music track: (1) The composition (also known as the musical composition, song, or publishing); and (2) The sound recording (also known as the master recording or master). The musical composition is the nuts and bolts that make up the song. It’s the lyrics, music, harmony, melody, arrangement, sheet music, etc. The sound recording is the recorded embodiment of that composition. It’s the performance that you hear by the artist, producers, session musicians, etc. There are different revenue streams connected with each copyright. As a result, understanding the different copyrights is the first step to helping creators set themselves up for success.

Think of the song “I Will Always Love You.” The most popular version that likely comes to mind is the version performed by Whitney Houston. However, the song was actually written and originally performed by Dolly Parton. As the songwriter, Dolly Parton (and/or her publisher) owns the copyright in the musical composition; and, as the performer of her version of “I Will Always Love You”, she (and/or her record label) owns the copyright in her sound recording. Whitney Houston’s performance of “I Will Always Love You” is a so-called “cover song.” Whitney Houston (and/or her record label) owns the sound recording copyright in her rendition of “I Will Always Love You.” However, Whitney Houston does not own the copyright in the composition because she did not write the song. The copyright in the composition remains with Dolly Parton as the songwriter.

The above example doesn’t take into account any specifics of potential third parties, such as labels and publishers. An indie musician working alone may own 100% of the copyrights in both the musical composition and the sound recording. However, if an individual is working with a publisher or label, it’s likely that the publisher has rights in the musical composition and the label has rights in the master recording. As a result, it’s also important to understand who owns and/or controls which copyrights so you know what rights are involved in different deals, as well as who you need permission from when you’re licensing music.

Understanding that there are different copyrights in a piece of music is a foundational issue that can really help musicians learn to better protect their rights and collect all of their music royalties. Music Law Pro offers a music industry background/foundation meeting to guide creators through these rights and set them up for success.

If you aren’t already a member of the Copyright Alliance, you can join today by completing our Individual Creator Members membership form! Members gain access to monthly newsletters, educational webinars, and so much more — all for free!

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