The advent of computer technology has enabled computer users to compress and transform music media into small, transferrable digital computer files called MP3. However, when these files are made available online for copying and distribution, the copyrights protecting those works are often violated.
MP3s and Copyright Infringement Lawyers
- What Is Copyright?
- What Is Copyright Protection?
- What Is Copyright Infringement?
- What Are Music Copyrights?
- What Are Music Downloads?
- Are Music Downloads Illegal?
- What Are Some Music Copyright Legal Issues?
- The Rights of a Copyright Owner
- How Do Copyright Laws Apply to MP3s?
- What Are the Different Kinds of Infringement?
- Are There any Legal Consequences for Illegal Music Downloads?
- Should I Consult a Lawyer about My Copyright Issue?
What Is Copyright?
Inventions are protected by copyright law, similar to trademark law, which covers logos and brand names. An original item or work should be copyrighted, not a reproduction or copy of a copyrighted item.
Per federal copyright law, copyright entitles its owner to many exclusive rights, including:
- Reproduce the copyrighted work
- Distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public for sale
- Perform the copyrighted work
- Rights to produce a license that is derived from other copyright materials
- Licensing rights to manufacture and make a product
What Is Copyright Protection?
If you have “fixed” your original work in a “tangible medium of expression,” you get the copyright automatically. You must have independently created the work and not adapted it. It must also be placed in a medium that can be reproduced, viewed, or communicated by others.
When an author fixes a work in a tangible form, copyright protection arises. In the case of copyright-protected works, the inventor or creator decides for what purposes the work can be used. No one else can use the work without the creator’s permission if the work is protected.
What Is Copyright Infringement?
Copyright infringement occurs when a person violates the copyright holder’s exclusive rights.
Punishment for infringement can include civil charges for lost profits and other consequences such as confiscating unauthorized material. Federal charges can also apply in some infringement cases, making it a very serious offense.
What Are Music Copyrights?
Music copyrights allow the creator of a song to protect their works from being sold, distributed, performed, or produced without their consent. To obtain a copyright, a song’s owner usually must register their song with the U.S. copyright office. Others can use a song without the owner’s permission if it does not have a copyright.
What Are Music Downloads?
The download of music is a relatively new method of obtaining songs and albums. A consumer downloads a digital copy of a song rather than purchasing a hard copy, such as a CD, cassette tape, or vinyl. As a result of music downloads, music has become much more accessible and affordable. Many online companies can provide otherwise hard-to-find records at discount prices (since packaging costs are low).
Are Music Downloads Illegal?
If the consumer pays for the music they buy, and the provider is licensed to distribute the song(s), then music downloads are legal. Without the copyright holder’s consent, recordings cannot be bought, sold, or copied. The majority of purchases are made online using a credit card.
However, there are a large number of websites that distribute songs illegally. Due to illegal downloads, such websites cost consumers, artists, and music producers a great deal of money.
What Are Some Music Copyright Legal Issues?
Many different intellectual property issues revolve around copyrights, including:
- Record contracts: Some record contracts involve the protection of copyrighted songs and their use or sale exclusively with a single record company.
- Royalty payments: Record companies and record stations must pay small fees to the owner of a song each time it is played. Royalties are what these are called. Before royalties can be collected, the song must be copyrighted.
- Infringement: Unauthorized use of copyrighted songs is called infringement and can result in a lawsuit and even criminal consequences.
- Public performances: Copyrights also dictate who and who can’t perform the song in public for profit.
The Rights of a Copyright Owner
Copyright owners retain the sole right to:
- Reproduce the Work: This includes rights to make copies of the work, such as the privilege to make compact discs containing copyrighted sound recordings.
- Distribute Copies of the Work: The privilege to distribute and sell copies of the work.
- Perform Works Publicly: Copyright owners of songs (but not sound recording copyright owners) have the right to have their songs performed publicly. Songs are typically performed in nightclubs, live venues, radio, television, commercial establishments, elevators, or anywhere people can hear them.
- A derivative work is defined as a work that is derived from another work, such as a remix of a previous song or parodies lyrics based on a well-known song (for example, Weird Al Yankovic’s “Eat It” combines Michael Jackson’s copyrighted original work “Beat It” with a parody lyric “Eat It”).
- Perform Copyrighted Sound Recordings by Means of Digital Audio Transmission: This is a right now added by Congress, which gives copyright holders the right to perform work through the use of digital audio transmission. Digital audio transmission can be played over the Internet or via satellite radio stations (such as XM or Sirius).
- Display the Work: Though this right rarely applies to music, an example would be to display the lyrics and musical notation to a song on a karaoke machine.
The above cannot be done without the copyright owner’s permission or authorization (usually granted in a license). After January 1, 1978, works published after that date are protected by copyright for the duration of the author’s life plus 70 years. The copyright remains in effect during the author’s lifetime and 70 years after their death.
How Do Copyright Laws Apply to MP3s?
Musical works, such as those found on audio compact discs (CDs), are protected by copyright laws from being reproduced and distributed without the owner’s permission. These works of authorship most commonly appear in MP3s:
- Musical works, including any accompanying words
- Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- Sound recordings
To violate copyright, a computer user must:
- Reproduce the copyrighted work
- Prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
- Distribute copies of the copyrighted work to others
MP3s have been deemed reproductions of copyrighted work and violate copyright unless their use is fair use. Copyrights are also violated when MP3s are distributed.
What Are the Different Kinds of Infringement?
- Direct Infringers: Direct infringers violate a copyright owner’s rights directly. In the case of MP3s, a person directly infringes copyright when they download an MP3 containing a song from someone who is not authorized to distribute or reproduce that song. Uploading an MP3 to a website without permission can also be considered direct copyright infringement. Moreover, making a copy of an MP3 file and giving either the copy or the original file to another person may constitute copyright infringement. Infringement does not require intent or knowledge. In this way, an innocent infringer can be held responsible. Innocence does, however, play a role in assessing liability.
- Contributory Infringers: Contributory infringers are people who help direct infringers violate a copyright holder’s rights. Contributory infringement only exists when there is also a direct infringement.
- Vicarious Infringers: When a person supervises infringing activity and has a direct financial interest, they are liable for vicarious infringement.
Are There any Legal Consequences for Illegal Music Downloads?
Illegally downloading music can have legal consequences such as:
- A civil lawsuit from the copyright holder, resulting in damages to pay for losses caused by infringement
- Criminal penalties (fines)
- In serious cases, jail time can also result
In serious cases of infringement, fines ranging up to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars have resulted.
Should I Consult a Lawyer about My Copyright Issue?
If you are accused of copyright infringement, a copyright lawyer can discuss any defenses you may have available to you. An intellectual property lawyer can help ensure that no one else is using your copyright without your consent if you wish to protect your work.
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