The Cheat Sheet: Copyright Procedures

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by Flip Michaels

"Mr. Michaels, this is Attorney Soandso. I'm writing you in reference to your station using a recording of Beethoven's 9th Symphony performed by the Chicago Symphony with Sir Georg Solti conducting. You'll be receiving lawsuits from America, Germany, and England within the next few days."

Then, I fell out of bed...what a nightmare!?

Without John Pellegrini (Production Director at WKLQ-FM in Grand Rapids, MI) who has contributed to the Tips & Techniques column over the past two months, we, the peers, might have passed over some vital information concerning the limits to our music libraries. Thanks, John.

More?

Yes, MORE. It's not over. There's a lot to learn from John's comments. Terms such as "public domain," "legal suits," and "licensing fees" should all be a very knowledgeable part of our vocabulary. The medium is radio. Its ingredients include music, and the music is protected by the law. As John put it, "ignorance of the law is no excuse, and what you don't know can hurt you."

That's where I come in...yeah, you remember, the guy who writes The Cheat Sheet.

Covering all the facts behind the limits to our music libraries could fill this issue front to back. Therefore, (music under), you're in the middle of Part One in a series of three, covering: COPYRIGHT PROCEDURES, LICENSING, and BROADCAST ROYALTIES.

Part One: COPYRIGHT PROCEDURES

The facts!

Since 1978, the duration of copyright protection for a piece of music (and lyrics) has been set at the life of the writer or co-writer who survives the longest plus fifty years. After that, it's public domain. This means that anyone can re-record the song without paying any fees or royalties.

To secure protection, the writer/co-writer must submit one of the following:

1. A written copy of the complete composition, together with copyright Form PA and a payment of ten dollars per composition.

2. A recorded copy of the complete composition (standard analog cassette or any disc), together with copyright Form SR, and a payment of ten dollars per composition.

Both these forms are easy to obtain (free of charge) for as many copies as needed. When completed, returned, and the fee paid to the Library of Congress, they'll send a confirmation with a "copyright number" assigned to each composition. One can only lose protection if they fail to inscribe a proper copyright notice on each written or recorded copy of the composition(s).

Wait, I'm not finished.

I even found out what the "PA" and "SR" Form letters stand for! "PA" stands for Performing Arts. "SR" stands for Sound Recording. The SR copyright recordings weren't acknowledged until 1971, the year the first big "White Album" bootleggers were rounded up by the major labels.

Any questions? Well, here are some answers:

If anyone has previously copyrighted the same work, the Library of Congress doesn't go searching through its files. It just certifies, in case of a future conflict, the specific date the work arrived. If anyone else submits the same or similar work on a prior date, the earlier claim of ownership would prevail. For either to claim "infringement," four or more measures of the two compositions must be identical. These days, infringement can occur even if the prior work quotes any "essential material" from the original. It can get pretty messy.

And, no. One cannot copyright song titles, lyrics without music, nor chord progressions without melodies.

SUMMARY: The Copyright Act reserves basic exclusive rights to the writer/co-writer of every copyrighted work until he or she signs away any control. The basic copyright procedure you've just read is the true catalyst in a lawsuit. If there's a copyright and you're not the person in possession of it, and you use the music without permission, you can expect a lawsuit. And the only place you'll find sympathy is in the dictionary, between sex and syphilis.

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