Music is the lifeblood of many cultural and creative endeavors. Music exists for its own sake, both live and recorded, and is instrumental (pun totally intended) in film, television, and theatre productions as well as a myriad of other venues. There are as many different expressions of music copyright ownership as there are different ways music is used. So buckle in, let’s talk about who owns what, when, and how.
A few years ago, I spoke to an artist whose work was displayed in a gallery in the French Quarter on Royal Street. When I entered the gallery, I immediately noticed that many of the artist’s paintings bore a striking similarity to paintings I had seen not an hour before, around Jackson Square, just a few blocks away. All of the artwork expressed a similar visual theme. I commented on the similarity to the artist, who bemoaned that he created the theme paintings and the others, on Jackson Square, “copied” it. Now, the painters around Jackson Square did not exactly copy any of the artist’s paintings; none of them were attributed to the artist, nor were they pastiches of the artist’s theme. Rather, the Jackson Square paintings looked as if their painters tried to exploit the artist’s theme. Did this artist have a legal leg to stand on against such exploitation? Yes, but not under copyright law as some might first expect. Instead, the artist may have been able to successfully sue under a trademark cause of action called “passing off.”
Ok, you’ve created something, great. You put in the time, the effort, and your know-how to make a film or a piece of art or a song and it’s just what you wanted it to be. Other people have started to take notice of your work and they want to use it. Excellent! So now you need something that will let someone else use your creation while protecting your rights to your work. Enter: the licensing agreement.
In my last post I spoke briefly about Band Partnership Agreements (BPA). I feel like this idea deserves to be expanded on due to its importance for working bands. When a band is just starting out, everyone is excited about the music, the creativity, the possibilities, and everyone in the band is (more or less) willing to do what it takes to help the band succeed. In order to avoid the time and expense of litigation, band members should think about how to deal with the internal problems that will almost inevitably arise, during the early days of happy cooperation.
Musicians are aware, of course, that music is a business, but generally don’t think of their band as a business entity not entirely unlike other small businesses. The type of business organization you want depends on the particular circumstances of your band. The key issues to look when deciding what kind of organization to go with are liability, control, and taxes.
The process for obtaining a copyright is much simpler now than it was in the past, when certain formalities had to be followed. A person obtains a copyright in their work when it expresses sufficient originality and is “fixed” in a tangible medium. You do not need to register your work with the Copyright Office, publish it, or put a copyright notice on it to get copyright protection. While you can easily get the rights associated with copyright, the protection your work receives without registration is minimal. Registering copyrighted works with the Copyright Office provides several important benefits.
Welcome to my legal blog! In the future it will cover aspects of art and entertainment law and l will also comment on legal developments in that area. I will probably also include some posts on New Orleans arts and culture as well. Please stop on by the comments if you've got something you want to add to the discussion.
For now, I just want to thank you for visiting my site, so, thank you!