Copyright Wars: Tales of Artistic Tussles!

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Welcome to the realm of copyright protection! We are tackling the journey through the intricate world of US and international copyright. Prepare to encounter tales of legal battles, financial settlements, and the curious nuances of intellectual property rights across various countries.

Photograph Courtesy of Erik Mclean

Have you ever caught yourself humming a catchy tune or simply marveling at the beauty of an art piece?

Ponder the evocative words of a poem, the bold strokes of a painting, or the thrilling twists of a movie. The universally known magic of copyright cloaks these creative endeavors in a protective layer.

It’s an empowering form of intellectual property, shielding our creations when we bring them to life.

When we talk about copyright, we refer to two main components: originality and fixation.

An original creation demands your independent crafting, boasting at least a spark of your unique creativity. Remember that while copyright defends expression, it steers clear of protecting ideas, concepts, or discoveries.

Fixation, however, is about capturing your creative masterpiece in a medium that lasts. It’s like freezing your work in time – whether you write it down, record it, or snap it on your camera!

Who Wears The Ownership Crown?

Photograph Courtesy of Ashton Mullins

Guess what? We’re all potential copyright kings and queens! When you bring your original work to life, you’re the author and owner. Companies, organizations, and others can claim this crown, primarily through “works made for hire” or contracts like assignments.

Owning a copyright is like possessing a magical key. It grants you the exclusive right to reproduce your work, prepare derivatives, distribute copies, and even publicly perform or display it. You can permit others to use these rights as well! And the best part?

The duration of copyright protection varies depending on the date of creation. If you’ve authored a work after January 1, 1978, you enjoy copyright protection for your lifetime plus seventy years!

You might ask yourself, “When Can I Borrow Someone Else’s Masterpiece?”

Though copyright might sound like a fortress, there are certain gates you can pass through. Besides licensing works, you can use exceptions and limitations of the Copyright Act, or operate with works of art in the public domain.

If you’re wondering where to register in the United States, it’s the Copyright Office! Although copyright pops into existence the moment, your work comes into being, registering your copyright amplifies its power. Registration provides valuable perks like enabling litigation, seeking certain damages, and helping the public identify copyright ownership.

The Case For Copyrighting Your Songs

A significant legal clash occurred in the music world involving the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, and Marvin Gaye’s classic, “Got to Give It Up.” No ordinary feud; this was about legacy, creativity, and the fine line between inspiration and infringement.

Marvin Gaye’s family claimed that “Blurred Lines” too closely resembled Gaye’s iconic hit. This accusation launched a high-stakes trial that had the entire music industry on edge. Legal teams presented their cases, and the jury had to decipher the complex melody mystery. The crux of the argument? Whether the essence of “Got to Give It Up” was evident in “Blurred Lines.”

Expert witnesses and musicologists weighed in during the trial, analyzing every note and groove. Thicke and Williams defended their work fervently, maintaining the uniqueness of their creative process. The melodies of both songs became the rhythm of the court proceedings.

The Jury Decides

Ultimately, the jury sided with Marvin Gaye’s family, determining that “Blurred Lines” had indeed infringed upon Gaye’s song. This decision was more than a verdict; it sent a powerful message throughout the music industry.

The case sparked widespread debate among artists and fans, prompting artist and producers to consider the boundaries of influence and originality. The verdict reminded the music community about the fine line between drawing inspiration from past works and imitation.

The ripple effect of this verdict was significant. It encouraged artists to respect the creative contributions of those before them while crafting their musical journey. This case served as a reminder of the importance of acknowledging influences when creating new music.

The “Blurred Lines” controversy etched its mark on music history. It underscored the importance of honoring past influences while composing new work. The story leaves us with a lasting lesson about respect and mindfulness in creativity.

How About International Copyrights

International copyright protection is a complex journey, with costs and requirements varying widely from country to country. It’s always wise to seek guidance from experienced legal experts when investigating copyright law.

Several treaties and agreements within the United Nations (UN) system address copyright-related issues. These treaties aim to harmonize copyright laws internationally and provide copyright protection and enforcement frameworks. The United Nations oversees two critical treaties related to copyright:

  1. Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works: The Berne Convention is one of the oldest and most significant international treaties governing copyright. It eventually became The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations. The Berne Convention establishes minimum standards for copyright protection, such as the automatic protection of works without formal registration, the duration of copyright, and the rights granted to copyright holders.
  2. Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS): TRIPS is an agreement under the World Trade Organization (WTO), another international organization within the UN system. TRIPS sets out minimum standards for intellectual property protection, including copyright, for WTO member countries. It requires member countries to provide copyright protection and enforcement mechanisms in their domestic laws and establishes provisions for addressing issues related to copyright infringement and enforcement.

The George Harrison Story

Let’s take up the face-off between Bright Tunes Music Corp. versus Harrisongs Music, Ltd.

Bright Tunes Music Corp. claimed that George Harrison had ventured too close to their musical masterpiece “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons.
Bright Tunes Music Corp. passionately argued that Harrison’s composition, “My Sweet Lord,” was not just similar, but a clear case of plagiarism of their song, “He’s So Fine”. Building on their case, they drew an interesting analogy, suggesting the melodic DNA of the two pieces matched too closely. After assessing other components, they brought up another point: the shared four-note phrase. Its melodic and chord structure, they insisted, were practically identical in both songs.

The court declared that George Harrison had “subconsciously” wandered into the melodic territory of “He’s So Fine.” ” A subtle nod to his musical influence, perhaps?

The court’s decision came down to an unintentional similarity: George Harrison had, unknowingly and subconsciously, used a melody from “He’s So Fine”. This subconscious copying led to a ruling of copyright infringement and tipped the scales in favor of the plaintiff in the ensuing plagiarism case.

The court held George Harrison accountable in the case. Bright Tunes Music Corp. won the damages and received the publishing rights to “My Sweet Lord.”

Copyrighting And You

We live in a creative era of unprecedented musical innovation, where every note, melody, and beat can be a profound expression of one’s identity. Music can express joy, sadness, rebellion, peace, or any range of human emotions. These creations are not merely an arrangement of sounds—they are an integral part of us. As such, it is crucial that artists protect their musical works from unauthorized use, and copyright law serves this exact purpose.

When you copyright your original music, you gain more than just legal protection. It also asserts your ownership, gives you control over the usage of your music, and opens avenues for monetizing your creativity. Think about it this way: if your music is your intellectual child, copyrighting is akin to asserting your rightful parental authority. Copyright empowers you to control the reproduction, performance, and recording of your work by others. In the long run this could potentially become a significant source of income.

Now, let’s dive into the how-to. The U.S. Copyright Office, located in the Library of Congress, is your one-stop shop for copyright registration. The process involves three steps: completing an application form, paying the applicable fee, and depositing a copy of your work. You can complete all these steps online using the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) system provided by the Copyright Office.

While this may seem straightforward, the process can be somewhat time-consuming, especially for busy artists who would rather be making music than filling out forms. The solution? There are alternatives that simplify the process, and one standout is LegalZoom.

Phototgraph Courtesy of Joshua Woods

LegalZoom simplifies the copyrighting process and makes it user-friendly. They help you fill out the necessary forms, ensuring you don’t miss crucial details that could render your application invalid. Think of them as your personal guide through the labyrinth of legal documentation. Although they charge for their services, the time you save and the peace of mind you gain often outweigh the cost.

So, let’s recap. When you copyright your music, you’re doing more than just adhering to legalities—you’re making sure that others treat your creations with the respect they deserve. And with the U.S. Copyright Office or convenient services like LegalZoom at your disposal, this doesn’t have to be a daunting process. You’ve got the tunes, now it’s time to protect them. Let’s give your music the shield it needs to resound freely and fearlessly into the future.

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