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What Qualifies as Copyright Infringement Music? Have you ever taken a screenshot of a photo from Instagram or Facebook and reposted it? Perhaps, you borrowed a quote or recording from another content creator's video? There is no doubt that every day we all come into contact with content, such as music or video, which we can engage with, share, and learn from. But you are probably wondering at what point borrowing content becomes copyright infringement.

Copyright infringements are common or omnipresent in our digital world, where videos, music, photos, and other unique and creative works are frequently shared and consumed. So, what is copyright infringement in music? How can you steer clear of copyright infringement and protect yourself from hefty penalties and unpleasant surprises? It is important to know the answers to these questions, especially if you are an aspiring musician or songwriter.

According to an international study by the IFPI published in 2018, more than one-third of consumers still access music via copyright infringement, which is concerning. You should know that many scammers simply copy and paste the protected creative works of other people without formally asking for the artists' permission.

Behind every streaming payout, every royalty, and every sync license, there is copyright as well as a copyright owner. This means that if you would like to earn money on your musical composition, songs, or sound recording, you need to know about copyright protections.

It is worth noting that there are rights afforded by copyright law that are exclusive to the copyright owners as soon as their creation or work is in tangible form.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a set of legal rights that artists, such as musicians, own in relation to their creative work. Keep in mind that copyright gives artists rights to control how other individuals and entities can use their creative work.

Music copyright designates or confers legal ownership of a sound recording or musical composition. This ownership is important as it includes exclusive formal rights to reproduce and redistribute the work and licensing rights that enable copyright holders to earn royalties.

So, the copyright owner or artist can control who can copy or reproduce their work and how it can be used. You should remember that copyright protection exists from the time an original work, such as a musical composition, is "fixed" in a tangible medium or form.

For instance, fixation happens when a song or video is recorded in a file or when a musical work or track is notated in a digital file or sheet music.

History and Legal Framework

Did you know that patent and copyright laws in the US are made and enforced by Congress as provided for in the US Constitution? And the founders of our nation recognized that for the nation to make progress, authors, inventors, and composers would need legal protection for their Intellectual Property (IP).

The lawmakers used the term "useful arts" and were quite clear that by enacting and passing strict protective laws, Congress would promote the country's economic growth. You will be happy to know that there's a strong correlation between strong and stringent copyright laws and economic growth and prosperity in countries worldwide.

What is Copyright Infringement?

According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright infringement happens when any copyrighted work, such as a musical composition or recording, is reproduced, performed, distributed, displayed publicly, or made into a similar derivative work without the formal permission and consent of the copyright owner.

For example, Rapper Vanilla Ice ripped off Queen and David Bowie's classic "Under Pressure" when the rapper recorded and distributed his hit single "Ice Ice Baby."

So, you will infringe copyright if you use the copyrighted work, such as music recordings, without the consent of the copyright owner. You probably know that there are many kinds and forms of copyright infringement. Here are some examples:

  • Using copyrighted images or photos on your company's website
  • Using a music group's copyrighted songs or tracks on your website
  • Recording a film or play in a movie theater
  • Posting videos on your website which feature copyrighted songs or words

If you are an artist or creator, your work is protected automatically by copyright law as soon as you publish the work in any tangible medium.

If someone is using your music or other creative work in the way mentioned above without asking you for permission, that person is likely infringing on the copyrights you own. According to Section 51 of the Copyright Act, copyright is considered to be infringed in the following cases:

  • Performing any act that only the legal copyright holder can do without getting prior permission from the copyright owner.
  • The reproduction or distribution of original works without the consent of the copyright owner.
  • Importing infringing copies of an original creative work.

Understanding Copyright Infringement

People and companies who develop or produce new works, such as movie music and register for copyright protection do it to ensure that they can earn profits from their efforts.

As an author or musician, you can grant other parties permission to use your work through a licensing arrangement. Other people can also purchase your work from you.

However, several factors and reasons may lead other people and entities to engage in copyright infringement. Some reasons include a high price for the original authorized work or even a lack of access to a supply of the original work.

Two Main Types of Work

Whenever you record a track or song, you may create two works. They are protected by copyright: these works include a musical work and a sound or audio recording. Keep in mind that a sound recording and the lyrics, music, words, or other content included in that recording are usually separate copyright-protected works. And these works are subjected to different rules and are often licensed and owned separately.

  • A sound recording comprises a series of musical or spoken sounds and words fixed in a recording medium. The medium could be a CD or digital file, commonly called a "phonorecord."
  • A musical work is the underlying composition of a song along with accompanying lyrics.

Examples of Copyright Infringement in Music

If you are a copyright owner, you should learn how copyright works to be well-positioned when facing potential infringements of your songs or creative works. And there are two important elements that account for or constitute copyright infringement. Firstly, the concerned song or recording has to be your original creation. Secondly, you have to show that the potential infringer is actually your work.

Marvin Gaye vs. Pharrell Williams/ Robin Thicke: Blurred Lines

You may know about this famous case. In 2015, several jurors in the US Courts formally awarded Marvin Gaye's family a whopping $7 million (subsequently trimmed down to $5.3 million). Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke wrote the famous song 'Blurred Lines,' which was held in court to be an infringement of the late Gaye's song 'Got to Give it Up.' Note that the Gaye Estate claimed that the song "Blurred Lines" was similar in feel and style to "Got to Give It Up."

Interestingly, Pharrell Williams conceded that he was a Marvin Gaye fan. Also, Robin Thicke had acknowledged drawing on Gaye's songs in interviews. Thicke and Williams also admitted that they were inspired by the Motown sound and Gaye.

The Metallica vs. Napster Infringement Case

This is perhaps one of the most famous music copyright infringement cases that affected and reshaped the global music industry. In 2000, Metallica sued the notorious music file-sharing platform Napster.

You should know that Metallica sought $10 million in damages at a hefty rate of $100,000 for each illegally downloaded song. While the metal band was not granted the money, Napster was compelled to terminate over 230,000 accounts and shut down.

Using Someone Else's Song or Work

It is no secret that being inspired and motivated by others' work is essential and intrinsic to the creative process. This is why musicians and artists often use other works in order to create new music compositions, recordings, and public performances. However, you should not assume that you can freely use other people's works.

So, how do you know if a specific song or classic rock track, such as Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, is subject to copyright law and regulations? There are some simple ways to discover if a song you plan to use is copyrighted.

Here are a few important copyright principles that you should keep in mind.

Generally, in order to use the musical works or sound recordings of another artist or musician, you must:

  • Use work or songs that are already in the public domain.
  • Get permission from the artist or copyright holder directly.
  • You can rely on a statutory limitation to the exclusive rights, including the section 115 license for musical works or fair use.
  • You can download music clips, tracks, and songs from a safe and legal platform like AudioGrab.
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Final Thoughts

Modern technology has certainly made copyright infringement in music easier than ever before, and scammers can steal your original content. In the worst case, you may end up in a protracted legal battle with a huge sum of money at stake.

This is why you should develop a protection plan in order to shield your creative work and songs from infringement. Learning about music copyrights and the latest laws is an excellent way to set yourself up for success and avoid the common pitfalls and mistakes made by some musicians.

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