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cover songs and copyright - US


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#1 Trevor Swaim

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 05:21 AM

Does anyone know what the laws are regarding copyright for cover songs? I have found a musician who will perform mostly original music for my film but I would like him to perform some old cowboy songs as well but I don't know If I need to get any rights for this. I assume so but am not sure of what I need.
thanks
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#2 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 05:54 AM

Anybody can cover a song and perform it without permission. But the original copyright holder can never be cut out of the deal when one decides to use his song in a new way. This means that you're allowed to cover a Elton John song and release it for example, but you can't use that version in a film without getting permission from the original copyright holder, i.e. Elton John.
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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 06:06 AM

Does anyone know what the laws are regarding copyright for cover songs? I have found a musician who will perform mostly original music for my film but I would like him to perform some old cowboy songs as well but I don't know If I need to get any rights for this. I assume so but am not sure of what I need.
thanks


Copyright clearance can be complex. It will depend if the old cowboy songs are still in copyright. How long the copyright lasts after the death of the composer varies depending on where they lived. 50 years after death used to be the standard, but in Europe they increased it to 75 years.

Assuming the songs are in copyright, you'll need to check with the music publishers of the songs that you are planning to use. They will negotiate a charge for the use of the songs, how much will depend on the clearance you need (you'll need world wide at the very least for film festival use). Allow some time for this process, they tend not to be quick. You'll also need your musician to sign a contract allowing you to use his performance of the songs and also his original music.

You can find more info here: http://www.mpa.org/

http://www.patents-i....aspx?tabid=178
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#4 Michael Ryan

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 10:45 AM

Hello Trevor,

This is a subject that is talked about a lot on many forums. Here's a rock solid bit of advice, don't
ask for advice on internet forums as the large majority of people that give answers have no clue
about what they are saying.

You need to get the advice of a good copyright lawyer. If you can't afford a lawyer I would not take
the advice of people who tell you "you can do anything you want, you don't need permission...blah,
blah, blah...". I've had to ask lawyers on several occasions about copyright and the "real" story about
copyright is almost always different than what I read on the chat sites.

The bottom line is if a song is still under copyright and you are going to put that in your film you need to
get the permission of the copyright holder (if your film is being sold or not has nothing to do with it or how
short or long the clip is has nothing to do with it either.)

But again, I'd ask a good lawyer.

Mike
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#5 Freya Black

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 11:43 AM

Copyright can be a complicated and messy buisness. Copyright in music for films even more so! and Copyright in the United States, well that is a very scary buisness indeed.

With Songs there are more than one set of rights which arise from copyright. These are things like performance rights and synchronisation rights etc

If you perform someone elses song in public or on the radio for example then performance rights have to be paid to the author.

If you record a cover of a song then you avoid having to pay for the right in a sound recording as you made your own, but you don't avoid having to pay for the rights in the song! For example if Mick Jagger records a cover of silent night then you wouldn't be able to use his recording because there is copyright in the sound recording, but you could record your own cover of silent night without any problems because the song is in the public domain.

So if you are recording covers then you are concerned with the copyyright in the song itself and not the copyright in the recording but that song may still be protected by copyright.

There is a special right that applies directly to songs in films and audio visual materials. It is called synchronization rights. The right to use music alongside audio visual material!

Theres a summary of all this stuff (and more stuff you need to know) here:

http://www.iamusic.c...s/copyright.php

also the ASCAP site has a whole load about this kind of thing here:

http://www.ascap.com/filmtv/faq.html

If your song is covered by ASCAP, then there may be a straightforward way of liscensing it, assuming you have the cash.

Incidently, the increasse in copyright duration in Europe (to 75 years) relates directly to the increase in copyright duration in the united states. It is because of something called the Berne convention, whch is something like an agreed attempt to harmonise copyright across territories so copyright will be protected internationally.

Adam is sort of right that you can record a cover and release it but in fact you still have to pay the original author a certain amount for every record or cd pressed with that cover on it. I also suspect the ability to do this comes out of the authors in question being a member of a society that will lisence the songs out in this way. ASCAP for example. I'm not sure of the paticulars of that arrangement however..

Mike has a good point however, that essentially asking about something like this on an internet forum is a bit like asking your mates in the pub or at the bus stop. It's best to be wary, (especially if the person in question cannot even spell the word liscence) because these things are matters of law and it is very different to asking someone what kind of film stock do you like or whats your favourite song. ;)

OTOH, it's worth doing as much reasearch as you can first, as you might be able to communicate with the lawyer better or understand what he or she is saying to you, so theres nothing wrong with asking about this stuff, just keep in mind that theres a difference between chatting with people and chatting with a lawyer. (hmm did that come out wrong?) ;)

love

Freya
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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 12:56 PM

On a low budget film the simplest way is just to get someone to compose the music for you, then have them sign a contract allowing you to use the music. Even songs like "Happy Birthday" need to be cleared. You need to have a correctly worded legal contract, it's not something you make up yourself.

I know people who have managed to do a deal on short films for clearing a modern song from a recording, but there are usually tight time restrictions on the use. The people involved had the contacts in the industry to make sure that they were doing things correctly and all the paperwork was in place. However, it also reduced the life of the film, which didn't please the distributor.

I'd forgotten the reason for the change to 75 years. I remember thinking I'd use a piece of classical music in a short I'd made, only discover that it had come back into copyright again.

Given the background to some of those old cowboy songs, it might be difficult to trace who holds the copyright on a few of them. I suspect you might be talking about some old C & W songs and they will still have copyright.

As everyone has been saying, this is a subject that you really need sound advise and you should get an up to date book on copyright, so you know the questions to ask. There's a chain of people who can hold copyright or you need a clearence from before you can use a piece of music.

BTW Copyright also applies to to art work like posters etc that you might be using in your sets.
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#7 Trevor Swaim

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Posted 08 January 2006 - 01:10 PM

yeah i went through the whole ascap rigamarole for the song i was wanting the holder wants $1000 for US festival rights for one year after the contract signing something like $5000 for world festival rights for one year. to be honest i had decided to completely forget about it until i found this local musician that sounds perfect. he is 1950's cowboy through and through. I guess i should send off another price quote request for sync rights for my song.
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#8 Paul Bruening

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 12:26 AM

Hey,

I avoid the living hell of music copyright by finding musicians with a penchant for composition. I prefer original soundtracks and the contracts are WAY easier than on existing music.
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