The Cheat Sheet: Don't Do It!

cheat-sheet-logo2by Flip Michaels

Copyright violations...ring a bell? (Make sure it's yours!) Just when you thought you were following all the rules, fellow RAP member "Tuna" Jon Rose (Production Director of WBYR-FM, Fort Wayne, IN) is playing devil's advocate. He writes:

Dear R.A.P.,

Regarding the past articles on the unauthorized use of copyrighted music in radio production: if a copyrighted work is licensed for use in a national advertising campaign, does that license extend to the local level? For example, we produced and ran a commercial for a GM Truck dealership using Bob Seger's "Like A Rock." Initially, I did not want to produce the spot as requested; however, it was pointed out that GM was using the song in their national ad campaign, so I agreed to use that song. Was I guilty of copyright Infringement in this case?

In another instance, a local night club has had a production house in Texas do their radio spots. The bed for these spots used pieces of songs from Guns 'n Roses, Quiet Riot, Ram Jam, some dance tracks I didn't recognize but assume are popular CHR cuts, and the like. The bed really cooks, but it seems to me that this is a violation of copyright. Since no one associated with our station was involved in producing the spot, I'm curious what our exposure might be. Are we liable? And should we refuse to run this type of ad in the future?

This question is just to satisfy my curiosity. Anyone who listens to the national radio talk shows hosted by Rush Limbaugh or Alan Combs probably has noticed their use of copyrighted works for "bumper music." Is that use illegal in any way?

Great questions! My homework stretched from the NAB's Legal Department to certain high exec's in the music industry!

1. Does the license for Bob Seger's tune extend to the local level? No. A local GM dealership's only affiliation with GM is selling GM vehicles. By using that song, you're in direct violation of the exclusivity of those copyrights. The artists and their publishers get paid straight from the corporation. That is why you'll need to treat the account as if it were co-op. See, just as an artist gets paid for each performance of a single we play, he'll get paid for every commercial unit aired. Were copyrights infringed upon? Yes. By airing that piece of work, you're in direct violation. No one acquired permission. BIG TIME lawsuit here.

2. Yes. If your station willingly airs a spot it knows is violating copyright laws, your station is liable. Try $100,000 plus the usual attorney's fees, etc.. Look at it this way: you'd be liable for airing a lottery violation. You'd be liable for an obscenity violation, soooo for a copyright infringement violation...YOU'RE LIABLE. Should you refuse to run the ad? Well, I'd give the spot and a copy of this column to your GM so that he/she may consult their legal department. Paying ASCAP/BMI does grant your station permission to air the entire song (performance rights) but it does not grant permission to use portions of the song for purposes of putting commercial copy over them (synchronization rights), which brings me to your next question.

3. Yes. Rush Limbaugh/Alan Combs are "possibly" in violation of our government's copyright laws. Not when using "bumpers" though. But if they change any of the lyrics in any way, or make a parody of the original composition, or adopt the music as their "theme" song without prior consent of the copyright holder...BIG TROUBLE. (That is not what the artist's intentions were!) Don't be surprised if you start reading more in the near future about this common mishap.

Remember, two wrongs don't make a right but two rights do make a left! ...or is that a U-turn?