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 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.

Copyright protection arises when an author fixes a work in a tangible form. 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 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?

Downloading songs and albums is a relatively new way to obtain music. The consumer downloads a digital version of the song instead of purchasing a hard copy, such as a CD, cassette tape, or vinyl record. Music downloads have made music more accessible and affordable. Often, online companies offer hard-to-find records at discount prices (due to lower packaging costs).

On the other hand, the invention of music downloading has also created many legal issues, especially regarding copyright and royalties laws.

Are Music Downloads Illegal?

Music downloads are not illegal, so long as the consumer pays for the music they are buying, and the provider is licensed to distribute the song(s). Recordings cannot be bought, sold, or copied without the copyright holder’s consent. Most purchases are made through credit card transactions completed online as well.

However, many websites distribute songs in a way that is unauthorized and, therefore, illegal. Such websites cost consumers, artists, and music producers large losses due to illegal downloads.

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?

Yes, illegally downloading music can result in legal consequences like:

  • 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.

What Is Public Domain Music?

The public domain registry lists music in the public domain. Because such songs aren’t copyrighted, they don’t belong to anyone. Thus, no one person owns copyright protection for sales or usage.

Music can enter the public domain in many ways, including:

  • The previous copyrights have expired
  • The creator specifically declared the work public domain
  • Copyrights never existed for the song

Can Anyone Use Public Domain Music?

Unlike copyrighted music, public domain music can be used, performed, or sold by anyone. With copyrighted music, the copyright holder usually needs to authorize any sales or performances of the work. Therefore, public domain music is popular for business uses, including advertisements and campaigns, as it allows companies to save money on royalties.

When Does Music Enter Into the Public Domain?

The U.S. copyright law allows copyrights to last up to 28 years, plus 47 more years after renewal. It will take 75 years for the work to enter the public domain. Music published before 1923 is in the public domain until newer editions are published, which can be copyrighted. There may also be differences in the copyright applications of songs existing before 1973 (when major changes occurred in copyright laws).

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Music Downloads?

Music downloads are still relatively new, and so are the corresponding laws. You may need to hire a copyright lawyer if you have any questions or are facing legal issues involving music downloads. In addition to explaining the laws, your lawyer can represent you in court during trial proceedings.

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