In a Confusing World of Legalese – Creative Counsel
Your Questions Answered!
Write in with your questions about the confusing legalities in the world of music or filmmaking, and make informed, professional decisions that affect your creative work. Manojna Yeluri, Founder of Artistik License, clears the fog with her regular column on the questions you ask, to get the answers that you need.
Artistik License is a legal education and services platform dedicated to addressing the needs and queries of artists and creative entrepreneurs in India.
In India, the Copyright Office of the Government of India situated in New Delhi handles all copyright registrations of original content. In order to be eligible for copyright protection, a work or creative product needs to be original and fixed in some kind of tangible medium. Originality doesn’t necessarily mean novelty, but rather hints at a minimal level of creativity and the use of the content creator’s skill and discretion in the creative process. If you’re thinking of formally registering your work with the copyright office, you can either rely on the assistance of a lawyer or alternatively, apply yourself via the forms available of the official website – copyright.gov.in. The forms need to be filled up carefully, with the applicant providing the necessary details and proofs to accompany the application. The process is a slightly tedious one in that it requires a certain amount of patience from the applicant. However, nothing beats formal copyright registration.
It’s important to understand that as the creator of a musical work, you are entitled to certain rights over elements of your work. Broadly speaking, a song usually has three copyrights in it: a copyright over the lyrics, a copyright over the musical composition, and a copyright over the sound recording.
Sometimes different people own the rights to each, whereas in some situations it’s possible to have one person or entity owning the rights on all three aspects. Either way, what needs to be understood is that you have a valid claim if you can find that someone or something has made use of your musical work without your prior permission.
On finding that someone has made unauthorised usage of your song (composition or lyrics) or your sound recording/track, you ought to consult a lawyer right away. The right thing to do is to make sure that there has been some kind of copying or usage without permission, and ask your lawyer to help draft a notice to the other party asking them to get in touch with you, discuss options, and/or remove your content or to stop performing it in any way. In a situation like this, getting your work formally registered helps. In the event that the other party does not respond appropriately, then you can proceed to take some kind of legal action against them in a court of law.
With respect to royalties, the recent 2012 amendment to the Copyright Act has attempted to discuss royalties although there is no provision that guarantees some kind of positive or explicit right. Do remember that any claims to royalty ought to be negotiated – again this is where professional legal help comes in handy.
Collecting royalties can be a tedious process and this is why it is important to consider registering one’s self with a copyright collection society. Copyright collection societies are like intermediary organizations that work between the copyright owner and the content user (which includes venues, movies, public spaces, other content creators and so on). Every country has a fixed number of copyright collection societies that are recognised to undertake the work of handling royalty distribution, however each country’s collection society is and does interact with its international counterparts in order to ensure that all musicians get the royalty payments due to them. Like many other industry players, collection societies have also been met with a fair share of criticism and in this context, it is good to discuss your options with a lawyer or a colleague before signing up.
If you are a DJ interested in incorporating digital samples of pre-existing sound recordings, then you need to get permission to do so from all the rights owners. Copyright ownership of the different elements of a track vary from one case to the other but broadly speaking here are the permissions that you require:
- Musical composition – composer/ arranger
- Lyrics – lyricist or publisher
- Sound Recording – the label
Note: If the first two are carried out by members of a band, then permission needs to be taken from all members of the band, not just specific artists.
There are several ways in which you can go about getting permissions for samples – you can directly approach the rights owners yourself, or you can ask your producer/label to do it for you. The process of permitting you to use the sample is known as licensing, and licensing carries certain costs and obligations with it. The area of digital sampling and licensing is a complicated one, and unless you’re absolutely sure, it is always best to consult a lawyer or someone with experience in music licensing before releasing your music.
Keep your queries coming in at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Manojna will answer them for you!