As an artist, content creator, or music industry professional, understanding copyright infringement is essential for protecting your work and keeping yourself out of legal trouble.
With the emergence of streaming services and the increased availability of digital media, copyright infringement has become even more prevalent - yet still largely misunderstood. This blog post will explore copyright infringement and strategies to avoid it in the music industry.
We'll also discuss several famous copyright infringement cases in the music industry over the years.
Our goal is to equip you with the knowledge of what qualifies as copyright Infringement and share scenarios of past instances where artists were accused of copying the creations of others. So let's get right into it!
What Is Copyright Infringement?
Copyright Infringement is when someone unlawfully uses or distributes a work protected by copyright laws.
This can take many forms, such as sharing unauthorized copies of a band's CD, providing free downloads of music and movies through an unapproved website, or even recycling copyrighted materials to make a new product without permission.
An example would be using a sound recording without credit in a new composition released without legal authorization.
For example, have you tried uploading a fun video to social media with your favorite tune in the background, only to have it taken down or muted? Well, that's because music copyright infringement is, unfortunately, quite common.
Social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are all protecting themselves against those who use copyrighted recordings without permission.
Nowadays, social media platforms have taken the initiative to create artist deals by securing licensing agreements with copyright owners to offer pre-licensed music for user videos.
This means that when you navigate to the 'add music' feature on TikTok or Instagram, you'll be happy to find a plethora of tunes at your fingertips, sans any concerns regarding copyright infringement.
Are There Different Types Of It?
Different types of copyright infringement in the music industry violate an artist's music rights. Here are a few common examples:
Unauthorized Reproduction Of A Song Or Musical Work
Unauthorized song or musical work reproduction involves creating and distributing copies of material without proper permission from the copyright holder.
This reproduction can be made in different forms, including digital download sites, streaming services, or even physical recordings on CDs and tapes.
Unfortunately, by producing these copies for distribution, the copyright holder loses out on potential profits that could have been earned from sales of the work.
Additionally, it devalues the original copyrighted work as buyers are more likely to turn to cheaper-priced pirated copies instead.
Sampling Without Permission
Sampling without permission occurs when one artist uses a portion or excerpt of another’s copyrighted material without authorization or music rights.
This could involve any part of the song, such as a rhythm, vocals, or an instrumental piece, and typically happens when one artist chooses to sample another’s work directly in their work. If this is done without asking for permission or compensating the original artist, then it's considered copyright infringement.
Depending on how much they've used in their track and other factors, it can result in hefty litigation between the parties.
As a result, many artists now opt to get clearance when they engage in sampling- paying royalties and respecting what belongs to another artist- rather than risk a legal battle with record labels.
Using Someone Else's Lyrics Without Permission
The unauthorized use of lyrics is a form of plagiarism, including taking another artist's lyrics, changing some words or phrasing, and claiming it as your work.
It can also include completely copying an artist’s song - word for word - without their permission.
Not only does this violate the music rights of the artist whose work was used without consent, but also it hurts all music creators who depend on copyright protection for their livelihoods.
How To Avoid Copyright Infringement And Best Practices
The consequences of a copyright lawsuit are proportional to the music's value. In other words, the more valuable the music in legal terms, the more severe the repercussions.
Understanding a few best practices is essential for any musician working with copyrighted material.
First and foremost, always obtain permission before borrowing or remixing master recordings of someone's work. Once the copyright holder grants a license, the rights of usage and the duration of use should be well understood before producing any materials.
Additionally, musicians should get familiar with “compulsory licenses,” which allow creators to produce their version of pre-existing works without infringing copyright laws as long as specific criteria are met.
It's also essential that all original compositions be registered with collecting societies so that you'll receive compensation when someone breaks copyright law.
By following these simple steps and using common sense when dealing with copyrighted material, musicians can prevent potential violations and enjoy more peace of mind while creating their music.
Famous Copyright Infringement Cases In The Music Industry
There are many famous examples of copyright infringement cases throughout the music industry's history. Let's take a look at several notable cases.
Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off"
In 2017, Taylor Swift faced accusations of copying the work of other musicians when songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler sued her over her hit song "Shake It Off," claiming similarities to their 2001 song "Playas Gon' Play" written for girl group 3LW. However, the lawsuit was dismissed on December 12, although no details of a settlement, if any, have been made public.
"Stairway To Heaven" By Led Zeppelin
In 2014, the estate of Randy California filed a lawsuit against Led Zeppelin's surviving members and their record label for copyright infringement on their legendary song "Stairway to Heaven."
The claim was based on allegations that the Zeppelin hit was copied from "Taurus," a song by the band Spirit where California served as lead guitarist. Despite the band's denial, the case went through the legal system for years.
In 2020, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury's decision that "Stairway to Heaven" was not taken from "Taurus."
Singer Robert Plant shared that the situation is unfortunate because so many songs share similar chord progressions, and the legal battle was an unpleasant experience for all involved.
"Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice claimed that his famous song "Ice Ice Baby" did not copy the bass line from David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure" despite sampling from it.
However, the lawyers of Bowie and Queen disagreed, and the resulting legal case was settled out of court, with an undisclosed settlement and credit given to the original artists for their songwriting.
"Shape Of You" By Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran has faced plagiarism accusations several times throughout his successful music career.
In 2016, he was sued over his single "Photograph," which resulted in an out-of-court settlement. Furthermore, the same year, he was hit with numerous allegations regarding his hit song "Thinking Out Loud."
However, Sheeran most recently received a favorable ruling from a London judge regarding his 2017 hit song "Shape of You." Sami Switch claimed that Sheeran copied his song "Oh Why," but the judge ruled in Sheeran's favor.
"Bittersweet Symphony" By The Verve
For over two decades, The Verve's hit song Bittersweet Symphony was embroiled in legal battles due to a disputed sample. The band had borrowed a small section from The Rolling Stones' The Last Time, but their manager claimed they used a larger sample than what had been agreed upon.
This led to the band being sued for plagiarism, and The Verve had to surrender all rights to the song, including the lyrics that were Richard Ashcroft's creation.
This meant they never profited from their biggest success and saw it nominated for a Grammy under Jagger and Richards' names. The situation ended positively as Richards and Jagger transferred the rights to the song to Richard Ashcroft in 2019.
In a curious case that explores ethics and cultural appropriation, Madonna used a Hindewhu sample in her 1994 hit "Sanctuary."
The sample was taken from Herbie Hancock's 1973 record "Watermelon Man," and there were no copyright issues with that agreement. But when you examine the credits, the original creator of the riff - the Ba-Benzélé Pygmies of Central Africa - is not credited.
Lana Del Rey & Radiohead
Music publishers for Radiohead alleged that Lana Del Rey had copied the chord progression and other melodic details from their hit song, "Creep," in her number "Get Free."
Although the case never went to court, Lana Del Rey said they settled. However, the details have not been disclosed.
Interestingly enough, another music group once took legal action against Radiohead due to similar issues with this same tune, resulting in a satisfying resolution out of court.
A Breakdown Of Copyright Infringement: Wrap Up
The music industry is an evolving ecosystem, and copyright infringement has been a part of it ever since the dawn of popular music.
Navigating the landscape can be daunting, but understanding how to protect yourself from copyright infringement is a great place to start. It’s essential to know your rights when signing papers or performing songs and to ensure that the copyrights are respected.
To ensure you protect your music rights and your masters stay safe, we encourage you to use Reprtoir to identify and catalog songs you’ve created or contributed to.
We aim to help you make your music career easier and more streamlined. Click here if you’d like to learn more about how Reprtoir can protect your music rights, so you can keep your focus on what you love - music.