BLATANT COPYRIGHT THEFT

After posting my last blog, “MUSIC COPYRIGHTS,” Duffmaister (http://www.youtube.com/user/Duffmaister?feature=CAQQwRs%3D), a fan from Helsinki, Finland, sent me the following questions:

Duffmaister: “Kinda curious about one music copyright matter, do you think bands like these have got the right to use the music like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7oWnx5vPcA or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DEcSxuK4U4 , the background music sounds quite identical to one piece of Rise of Nations music. So if they followed the correct procedure they asked Microsoft/Warner Bros for a permission to use parts of this music piece? Or is it allowed to take a small sample of the music and slightly change it without breaching copyright laws?”

Duane: Thank you for your comments on WordPress. I was unaware that my music “High Strung” from the “Rise Of Nations” video game was being used in rap/hip hop music tracks in Eastern Europe. But there is no obligation by Microsoft or Warner to inform me when they grant permission. Both of the examples you refer to here are using my master recordings of that music. Simply put, they took my original, recorded music and rapped on top of it. While they each “arranged” my original music recordings to fit with their lyrics, they are using my music and my recordings and taking credit for them, without giving credit to the composer (me) or the copyright owner (Microsoft Corporation). If they did not seek permission from Microsoft or Warner Bros., it is a violation of international copyright law. All I know at this point is that I have not received any royalty payments for YouTube uploads that have received 245,159 views and 1,351,935 views respectively. That seems like a lot of views to ignore international copyright law.

According to International Copyright law, you can’t repurpose a piece of music without permission and/or license from the copyright owner. I will check with both companies to see if they granted a license for these songs, but it is unlikely that either company will respond. A lot of big businesses just don’t care about these issues unless it affects millions of dollars in their bottom line.

Duffmaister: “Nevertheless, I’m glad that people have had the opportunity to enjoy your vast works on YouTube even after many years since, for example, Rise of Nations was released. Of course, if this would mean economic loss for you personally my moral would feel obliged to remove the videos.”

Duane: Your uploads of the Rise Of Nations soundtrack on YouTube, while possibly technically illegal, probably fall into the category of “fair use.” You haven’t claimed that you wrote or recorded the music and have given proper credit to the composer and copyright owner. You aren’t profiting from it. And your intent was to simply share the music with fans of the game. Because the music is attached to the game, your uploads have probably been used by Microsoft as a marketing tool to sell more games. If any public performance royalties were to be generated by this music, the appropriate Performance Rights Organization (in this case ASCAP) would be able to track who is owed publisher and composer public performance royalties.

THE BOTTOM LINE
These types of questions have been around for a long time. But as digital technology progressed, it became very easy to take someone else’s work and claim it as your own. The late 80s and early 90s saw several big hits from rappers who rapped over someone else’s song. Probably the most infamous was Vanilla Ice’s 1989 song “Ice Ice Baby.” He took the recorded intro to “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, rapped over it, and didn’t have permission to use it and didn’t give them credit for their work.

While I’m surprised that my song “High Strung” would appeal to rappers, I guess the popularity of the “Rise Of Nations” game and soundtrack would make it appealing to steal. These rappers are building on the large fan base that already exists from the soundtrack. But if they didn’t acquire a license, they are still stealing my music.

To make it very clear, here is my iMac computer’s dictionary definition.

steal |stēl|
verb ( past stole |stōl|; past part. stolen |ˈstōlən|)

1 [ trans. ] take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it : thieves stole her bicycle | [ intrans. ] she was found guilty of stealing from her employers | [as adj. ] ( stolen) stolen goods.
• dishonestly pass off (another person’s ideas) as one’s own : accusations that one group had stolen ideas from the other were soon flying.

One last thought on the subject. While a lot of people may think that just because I am recognized around the world for my music, that I am rich. That couldn’t be further from the truth financially. I am rich with respect to having a family that loves me, that I love my work and that I love entertaining people. For those things, I have been blessed in my life. But like most music composers (as is true with most people on this earth), I am just getting by and struggle to pay the bills. To all those who view Intellectual Property (music) as a thing that you can just take and claim as your own, please think again…

2 Comments to “BLATANT COPYRIGHT THEFT”

  1. I am a beginner as a composer at 65 years old but before I let my music get out there I print it put in an envelope and register it as post to myself In Canada this costs about $12.00 . You never open the received letter it should be opened only in court . This is the least expensive method to do it in Canada I assume for the US as well

    bob forrest

    • Hi Bob,

      Thank you for your comment. You are indeed correct in your description of how to ensure that your music copyright can be enforced in the courts. It works the same way in the U.S. In the U.S., the only difference between your method and registering a copyright with the U.S. copyright office is that you could be liable for court and legal fees. I can only assume that the same is true in Canada. Thank you for bringing up this important point, which can help a lot of composers protect their work.

      In the case of my story about “Blatant Copyright Theft,” however, the issue was not that the copyright had not been filed. Music embodied in a larger work, in this case the “Rise Of Nations” video game, is protected under the same copyright laws that covers musical works. Not only did the music appear in the video game, but it was also released as an Original Soundtrack DVD on the Sumthing Else record label.

      The fact is that these “artists” took the music I composed and used it in their songs without giving me credit (which denies me of my legal right to royalties) and did not receive permission from the legal copyright owner of the work, Microsoft Corporation, who hired me to compose the music score.

      I have attempted to contact Microsoft with regard to this situation, but to no avail. Microsoft is a very large company that, apparently, doesn’t bother with issues that don’t heavily impact their bottom line. In all fairness, they are a software company. Their income from my music copyright issue pales in comparison to the revenue generated by their computer and phone software and hardware sales. Therefore, they are unwilling to get involved. While it is not morally right, I understand that it is not in their best interest to react to this situation.

      On the other hand, this is a very big issue for me. I was a Microsoft employee when I composed the score. But international copyright law ensures that the composer has certain rights under the law. While Microsoft owns the copyrights to the music, I am the composer of that music and am entitled to the composer’s share of public performance royalties for that work. When you talk about an Eastern European rapper with millions in sales stealing your work, that equates to yet another reason not to create music for a living, which hurts us all.

      I don’t have the resources to hire an international copyright attorney on my own. Although I have made the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP – of which I am a member) aware of my situation, they don’t have the resources to fight these kinds of battles for their members. They have to rely on the honesty of the music users to report usage, especially on the international stage.

      Although my hands are tied (for now), I will never give up my pursuit of my dreams. And you shouldn’t, either. Music is a universal language that reaches across all borders and makes an indelible impression on people’s souls.

      Never give up. Never let anyone say your music isn’t important. And always speak from the heart.

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