Copyright law allows for the free creation of music while implementing a system of checks and balances to protect artists from other artists. The question remains, who protects artists from record labels?
In the music industry, owning the intellectual property rights to your music is as valuable, if not more so, than the creation of the work itself. With this in mind, we often see conflicts over the creation and ownership of these rights. To have a valid copyright, an artist or author must create a work that is 1) original and 2) fixed in a tangible medium. In the music industry, this is expressed through songs. Songs consist of two types of copyrighted works, musical works and sound recordings. Musical works consist of melodies, harmonies, rhythms and any such combination. Sound recordings originate from the fixation of words or musical, spoken or other sounds embedded in a material object such as a record, tape or phonogram.
Two recent cases involving Post Malone and Universal Music Group challenge the current nexus at the intersection of copyright and music law. the Case by Post Malone is about control and ownership of the most popular song”Circles.” Here, Tyler Armes attempted to establish that he contributed a copyrighted idea and controlled the final track with his “one, four, five” chord pattern. Post Malone insists Armes was merely a “studio guest” and not a “creative mastermind” in the production of the track.
This action was originally filed in 2020, but the district court judge partially dismissed the action, ruling in favor of Post Malone and noting that Armes “does not allege his co-recorder because he does not does not plead facts showing ‘the most important factor’: that he oversaw the control of its creation. ” To get joint paternity of a copyrighted work, both creators must “make a material contribution” to the work. It means creating elements of a work that alone are sufficient to warrant copyright. Armes’ “one, four, five” chord pattern appears to be his sole claim to ownership of the song “Circles”, however, this chord is considered “extremely common” and one basic
framework of music theory. It’s essentially not creative enough to meet the low level required for a copyright.
The second case involving Universal Music Group is a class action involving a number of famous musicians including vocalist John Waite, bassist Kasim Sulton, vocalist Syd Straw, Leonard Graves Phillips and Stan Lee of punk band The Dickies, and Steve Wynn, Dennis Duck and Dave Provost of rock band The Dream Syndicate, along with 220 other artists. Right here, the plaintiffs allege that “record companies violated copyright law and deprived hundreds of artists of their ability to claim rights to their works”. This assertion is not the first concerning Universal music. The growth of the music industry has led record companies and artists to fight for control of their creative intellectual property. The real substance and pleasure comes from the creative work; however, the monetary value is derivative ownership of copyright.
Copyrights are crucial to the music industry and allow artists, producers and record labels to benefit from their creative expressions. The monetary value of the music is usually realized by the party that owns the master recording of the song. A main license “gives the licensee the right to use a recorded piece of music in a media project such as a movie, television show, advertisement, or other visual creation or audio project.” Owning a copyright is how artists preserve and protect their tracks from unauthorized redistribution. As a fundamental tenet of intellectual property, to incentivize artists to create, there must be a way to defend their right to make a profit. It is unrealistic to expect an artist to spend a lot of time making music, only to have that music stolen or sold for no financial benefit.
While copyright law offers some protection to an artist against other artists, as we see above with Post Malone and Tyler Armes, it does not sufficiently protect artists against labels and entities. music industry businesses. The sad reality is that some record labels view artists as simply a way to make a profit rather than creative beings. This leads to contractual and legal disputes over master licenses and copyright ownership. As a basic principle, a author of a copyright is usually the performer or sound engineer. However, due to a lack of resources, young and new artists often cede these ownership rights to record labels through an exposure contract, access to resources, and an initial monetary incentive. , without realizing how much they give up.
This is not to say that these types of arrangements are always negative. In some cases, these contracts and relationships are mutually beneficial, especially in the beginning. However, over time, the success of artists often exceeds the contractual amount of compensation. Artists to attempt to restructure or sometimes break their agreements to avoid unfairly enriching the labels. The time has come to put in place new mechanisms to protect artists against excessive record labels.