A number of months ago an article I wrote was posted on the CSBW blog, entitled Just ASK – Making Photo-Legal Groundwork Add Up. Today, I am going to address the use of music in your online content, e.g. in blogs and podcasts. While this post is focused on the copyright and related proprietary rights in musical works, there are other potential copyright and intellectual property issues that can affect what you do online, when you consider the sources of content used, how you adapt content and whether or not you are interviewing or using the image of other people in your podcast. If you need help applying sound legal practices in this area, get in touch with an intellectual property lawyer who can advise you on your specific circumstances.
It Takes a Village to Make Music
Unlike photographs which are generally the result of one person’s creative efforts, the music we listen to is the culmination of a number of creative contributions recognized under copyright laws.
There are composers (e.g. songwriters) for the lyrics and musical compositions; performers including singers and musicians, and sound recorders who produce what ends up being the final version of a musical work, ready for publication and distribution. Each of these contributors has certain rights in a musical piece, namely copyrights and related proprietary (‘neighboring’) rights. Composers have legal interests in downstream efforts to perform, record and distribute their music. Performers and sound recorders have rights in the actual performances and recorded versions of musical works. Even when the copyrights in the composition of a musical piece have expired, new rights can persist and be created in new performances and recordings of the musical piece. Bottom line, there are typically a number of interests that have to be considered when selecting a musical piece to integrate into your online content.
The High Road – Music Licensing
One of the primary ways creative contributors and rights holders are compensated in connection with their copyrights and related proprietary interests, is with the payment of royalties under copyright license agreements. Unless you are confident that your use of a musical work falls within one of the exceptions to infringement prescribed under copyright laws, you need to familiarize yourself with the options available to get the license(s) you need. You can either go directly to the source (rights holder) or you can work with organizations established to issue licenses for the benefit of creative professionals and rights holders.
There are copyright licensing bodies which administer licenses, collect royalties (when applicable) and distribute proceeds to various stakeholders. This makes life easier for everyone. Creative professionals and businesses (e.g. publishers) have someone else monitoring the play time and distribution of musical works and someone else dealing with transactional processes which take away from creating new music. Users of works (businesses primarily) can go to one or two organizations to get the permissions needed to legally copy and play a tune. These organizations may also take care of the onerous task of connecting with their counterparts in other countries to coordinate efforts since similar copyright regimes operate in basically all countries around the world.
In Canada, there are several licensing bodies for musical works, but two that you will come across often are SOCAN and Re:Sound. Announced recently is a collaborative project by these two organizations to offer a joint portal for users to further streamline the licensing process (http://www.socan.ca/news/socan-and-resound-working-together-make-licensing-process-easier).
Alternatively, you could seek to select a musical piece that has been tagged with a Creative Commons license (https://creativecommons.org/about/program-areas/arts-culture/arts-culture-resources/legalmusicforvideos/). So long as you the follow the terms of the license, you can have some piece of mind that your use of a musical piece is legally approved, without having to pay royalties.
When the commercial exploitation of a particular musical piece is not within the authority of a licensing body to manage, or not otherwise pre-approved (licensed) for certain kinds of uses, you still have to get permission. It can be a long and winding road to track down rights holders, which may include authors, performers, and their estates, or employers and third party assignees. If you find this pursuit too cumbersome, there may be value in paying a modest fee to get the permissions you need and focus on creating engagement with your audience.
Remember, just ASK
In summary, if you want to legally use musical works as part of your online content:
Approach, get consent and acknowledge those who contributed to making the music you use.
Substitute with other musical pieces, if in doubt about using your first choice ‘tune’.
Know your options because today there are many, and there is really no reason you can’t be efficient finding the music you want without jeopardizing the integrity of your enterprise.
Kyma Professional Corporation