Archive for October 3rd, 2012

October 3, 2012


I am not a copyright attorney. Any time you have a question about copyrights, you should contact a qualified attorney who specializes in copyright law. My view on the subject simply comes from decades of experience protecting my musical work. After a recent question from a fan, I thought it was a good time to give an overview of how it works from a composer’s perspective.

Basically, if you have purchased a piece of music on its own or integrated it into a game, film, TV show, etc., you have the right to enjoy that product for your personal use. You can play it at home, enjoy it on your iPod, view it on DVD, etc.

We are all familiar with YouTube and enjoy a lot of music and shows without paying for them. Just like TV, YouTube has advertisers to help defray their costs. Some uploads have their own advertisers, as well. Some use the site to promote something or simply post something goofy.

However, it is illegal to use this music for anything but your personal use unless you have permission or a license from the copyright owner. A prime example is on the demo pages of my Web site. Although I composed all of the music you hear, I received written permission from all of the copyright owners to post the demos and attached the copyright information for each piece. There is also a disclaimer at the top of the page: “Music provided here are demos only. Duplication is in violation of copyright law. Commercial music licenses are available for all of this music. E-mail Duane for more information on music licensing options.”

The copyright law protects the copyright owner of a piece of music by giving them the right of exclusive control over how, when and where the music can be used. The copyright exists from the moment it is created and belongs to the composer(s), whether it is registered with the copyright office or not. Registering with the copyright office only ensures that you won’t pay legal fees if someone tries to steal your music. But if problems arise, you still need to prove that you created the music on a certain date. The duration of the copyright varies depending on circumstances, but is likely to be in force long after you are gone.

In order for a composer to make money from their work, there are two directions to take. In either case, the composer is always credited with composing the music and retains the composer’s portion of any public performance royalties.

“Work For Hire” is when a composer is hired to create music that will be copyrighted by the production company that has hired them. This allows that music to be associated with that project without any other money being paid and assures that there won’t be any complications if/when the project is re-released at some later time or on a different platform or media.

“Licensed Music” (for lack of a better term) is when the composer(s) retains the copyright and licenses its use for a specific project and duration. The production company does not have the right to dictate where else the music will be used. So the music that was licensed for a film, for instance, could also show up in an ad for toothpaste. Odd, but I’ve heard of this happening. In either scenario, the composer is paid either a composing fee or a licensing fee for their work.

To wrap up, I will add that sometimes I get requests from people who want to use my music for some sort of personal project and I can not, under copyright law, just grant their request. It is very flattering to know that my work is appreciated, but there are legal reasons why I can not release certain music for other uses. Please remember, too, that music is not a hobby for me, it is my livelihood. I am thankful for the interest and always open to questions about how this works.