Copyrights & Wrongs (Part 2)
Ignore them at your peril!
There are things you don't need to know about in life - like Brian May's taste in clogs - and things you do - like copyright and how it affects you. In the second of a two-part article, we look at the vexed subject of sampling and home taping...
Let's move now into the audio-visual world - and I use the term in its widest possible sense. Whether you are just about to embark on your first wedding video or David Putnam's latest venture, you may need to talk to us.
If you're a composer, you may already have composed music for an AV production of some sort. At the bottom end, it may have been for a local production company producing a video for one of their corporate clients. At the other end of the scale, you may have written some pieces for the broadcasters. Whatever purpose your music has been commissioned for, it is typical, though by no means standard, that the company who commissions the piece obtains the copyright to it as well.
For this reason, we as a company (MCPS) tend not to get too involved in this area. If your only form of exploitation, as a composer, is supplying music to this sector, membership of MCPS may not be relevant (though it still will be for the PRS, especially if it's for broadcast). If, however, your music was for a broadcast production and the broadcaster decides to release it on video or record, then MCPS membership should be considered.
Let's now look at the situations where you may use music as a producer. I use the term producer here in reference to anyone making an AV production. As far as we are concerned, there are basically three types of music a producer can use in a production: commissioned, commercial or production/library music. Commissioned music was covered above and is usually an agreement between the producer and the composer. Commercial music is anything you can buy in a record shop; as any good record sleeve will tell you, re-recording a record without a licence is illegal. This applies to both the music and the original sound recording. Even if you, as a producer, use it in the off-line stage (the rough edit) to see how the music fits the visuals, if you do not have the licences, it is theoretically illegal.
So how do you get a licence for the musical works? Firstly, you come to us. We have a team of Licence Negotiators whose job it is to negotiate between the producer and our member to arrive at, hopefully, an agreeable rate. Because we know who to contact and where to contact them, we can often save the producer a lot of time, trouble and even money. This is a service free to producers, but one we can only carry out on members' music. Be warned though: commercial music can take a long time to clear and can also be expensive as there is no fixed rate. A producer recently told me of a quote he was given to use a piece of music from the '60s. For 30 seconds it came to £40,000! This is an extreme example, and most tracks come in the hundreds rather than thousands.
Now let's complicate things a little. Last month, I mentioned that not only is there a right in the music but also in the sound recording. So, whenever you need to use a commercial record in a production, you will also need to get the permission of the appropriate record label. This will incur a separate fee to the label.
Now for production/library music. There are a number of companies up and down the country who produce a wide range of discs of both music and special effects for use in AV productions.
So, how do you get to use it? Well, the vast majority of production music libraries are our members and we therefore license their works. If you want to use production music, you have to sign a code of conduct with us giving you permission to do so. This code allows you to record any production music into your production before you come to us for a licence. Once you have signed the code, you can approach the libraries for a selection of their discs.
These are supplied to you free of charge, you only pay for them if you use them. As for the charges, these are fixed depending on the end use of your production. For example, 30 seconds of production music on a video for showing to a non fee-paying audience (ie. your average company video) would cost £15 - which is somewhat less than £40,000.
One other point about production music is that we also control and license the sound recording right, unlike commercial music. Licensing the music through us also licenses the sound recording and incurs no extra charge.
I am only too aware that the issue of home taping is very much a hot potato to many MT readers. I have to admit, too, that our company, among others, was heavily involved in lobbying parliament to have home taping covered by a blank tape levy in the 1988 Copyright Act. In the end, no levy was included. However, with legislation of some degree in place across most of Europe, it can only be a matter of time before something happens here.
I have no desire to re-open old wounds through this article as I have neither the time or space. However, I will say that whilst I can understand the arguments on both sides of the fence, please remember that for every successful composer, there are hundreds who are not. Their cause is not helped by someone taping their album for a friend.
Taking a rather giant leap away from home taping, I think it can safely be said that no-one's cause is helped by the bootlegging/piracy/counterfeiting trade that goes on. Those of you who have paid out good money, often a lot of money, for these products will know how shoddy they usually are. MCPS are involved in policing this area in conjunction with the BPI Anti-Piracy Unit (APU). Both ourselves and the BPI welcome any information from the public about anyone involved in these criminal acts.
And now: sampling! Hardly a month goes by without Music Technology printing an article on a sampler-based act. As we all know, samplers are very powerful tools offering many creative possibilities. However, these machines have no scruples and accept sounds from any source.
Although the new copyright act does not mention samplers, it does in general restrict the unlicensed recording of any recognisable piece of copyright music and sound recording. There is a widely held un-truth that as long as you don't copy more than eight bars, you are in the clear. Wrong! The important word here is 'recognisable', and as I often tell people, Beethoven's 5th Symphony can be recognised within four notes.
Pop music history is already littered with examples of out of court settlements as a result of unlicensed sampling. I have also heard, anecdotally, that there is someone gainfully employed at Polygram Records to listen to new releases for the James Brown 'scream' that's on just about every other dance record.
As a result, record labels and publishers are trying to get together some form of code of ethics on sampling. In the meantime, if you are releasing a work which includes samples of other people's records, get them cleared through the labels and the music copyright owners. Don't think that releasing it only through your local record shop is the answer -just ask DNA what happened when they tried it with their version of 'Tom's Diner' shortly before the A&M rep visited the shop. They may have got a number one, but it cost them.
I'll close the issue with this thought. You're in a band and you're in a 24-track studio making your first single. You've set up your drum kit and the engineer has spent most of the day miking it up to get you 'that sound'. Just think of the cost, time and effort of all that. Somebody in their bedroom studio then buys the record and in half a second or so loads the snare sound into their Akai S950 for the latest dance hit. How would you feel about that? (Answers on a postcard - Ed.)
If you have read your way all through this article, then I'm going to assume you are interested in membership. Don't worry, this won't take long.
Membership of MCPS is quite simple. All you basically need is one composition fixed in any material form, be it record, tape, manuscript or any other, which can be commercially exploited by sales to the public. Obviously you also have to be the copyright holder of that work. Membership is free but we earn our living by deducting a small commission, between 5% and 15%, from any royalties we collect for you. The idea behind that is that if we don't collect any money for you, we don't get paid.
There are cases, though, where membership of MCPS is not relevant. For example, if you have assigned your works over to a publisher who is a member of MCPS, you wouldn't need to join us individually for those works. PRS, though, do require their publisher members to have their composers as individual members also. However, there are cases where a composer has individual MCPS membership, for compositions which are not assigned to any publisher.
Once you are a member, we will license the recording of your works. As you have probably gathered, that's not just a matter of legalising a record for sale in the shops. Once licensed, we will collect the royalties due and then pay them onto you. However, membership of MCPS is anything but a get-rich quick scheme. Royalties are out there, but they are not in the abundance that others would like you to believe.
If you feel you are interested in joining, please contact our Membership Department. They will be happy to assess your situation and advise as to whether membership is relevant.
And that's it! As I said at the beginning, copyright is rather a dull subject. But I also said it was essential and ignorance of it can be costly. I hope this article has shown why. If you want to take anything further, the following three contacts may be of use.
Feature by Anthony Braine
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