Posts tagged ‘copyrights’

February 17, 2014


ASCAP (the performing rights organization, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) celebrated its 100th birthday on Thursday and it brought up an interesting question from many people. How do composers make money? And why would they join an organization such as ASCAP?

Like anyone else, professional composers need enough income to put a roof over their heads and food on their table. ASCAP helps to protect their rights and make sure that they are paid for the work they do.

In my brief summary here, I’m referring to composing instrumental music (not songs with lyrics).

Live Performance: Exposure to a composer’s work sometimes comes in the form of live performances of his or her work. Unless the composer is also performing in the live ensemble, there is usually no extra money owed to the composer. If the work was commissioned for a performance, that fee would be negotiated and paid up-front. The composer is also entitled to receive performance royalties through a performing rights organization like ASCAP. This amount is usually very small.

Work For Hire: Composers for media (television, film, video games, commercials, etc.) can be hired to compose music which will play during a visual presentation. The company which hired the composer will own the copyright to the music and the company controls how and when that music will be used. This can be lucrative for successful composers, who can charge a lot for their services. International copyright law also states that the composer is always credited as the composer, which allows “back end” revenue. This means that if the music is heard in a context that can be surveyed by a performing rights organization (i.e. TV or radio), then the composer can collect those royalties. Having no control over where and when the music will be placed, however, means that the composer may never see any additional revenue from their work for hire.

Production Music: This music is composed with the hope that a TV, film or game company will select it to be included in their project. This is common in television, especially for low-budget or reality shows. The composer makes an agreement with a production music library. The library then markets the music in return for a portion of the licensing and royalties that are paid. Unless the composer’s work is placed on highly successful shows, the royalties are very low.

Full-Time Composer: This is the most competitive field for a composer to enter. A staff position with a company that needs constant musical content is rare. So when a composer has an opportunity to make a good living doing what he or she has studied and practiced to do all of their lives, almost every composer will apply for the gig. But this is a job where “corporate” meets “creative” and this concept is sometimes very foreign to composers. (In other words, a composer in this type of job must be willing to work within the styles that the employer dictates.) As with any job, the pay is dependent on how successful the company is and how much the company values the composer’s contribution to that success. Unlike any of the other revenue streams mentioned above, a full-time staff composer is also likely to receive benefits such as insurance, 401Ks, stock options, etc. And the fact that they are receiving a steady paycheck allows them to focus on their craft, instead of always looking for their next job.

Pros and Cons:
As you can probably tell from reading this post, 99.9% of people who aspire to be professional composers will not make a living from that alone. Most of the talented composers I know also do other types of jobs, both inside and outside of the music/entertainment industry. But thankfully, there is something so rewarding about creating music and entertaining the world that keeps us excited and stubbornly pressing on in this highly competitive line of work.

Please support the arts and the people who dedicate themselves to making all of our lives a little brighter through music.

October 7, 2012


After posting my last blog, “MUSIC COPYRIGHTS,” Duffmaister (, 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 or , 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.

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…

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.