Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blind Mare Story Leads to Song Ripoff Scenario

Dear Rich: I am the composer of a piece of sheet music. I have included it in a booklet with a story about a blind thoroughbred mare. I made an agreement with a rep from a local TV station that at his request, I would find a group to perform the piece and after they taped at the TV station he said he would call me in for an interview. I found the group to play the song but find out after they did the session I was not included in the interview. In place of me they have a woman that they are giving credit for composing the song. As the agreement was breached I intend to send a certified letter stating, "I am the composer of the original work registered copyright pursuant to Title 17 of the United States Code and they do not have my permission to televise, show or reproduce in any manner. Any attempt to do so will be an infringement on my copyrighted material." Will my letter hold any weight?Wow, that seems kind of sad ... ripping off a song about a blind mare.  As for your letter we're not sure whether it will have any effect. That all depends on whether you are the creator of the song and you can prove it. (Also, you might want to tweak the grammar; we think you mean to say "you' -- the TV station -- and not "they.")
How the TV station might respond. If we were the lawyers for the TV station and we received your letter, we'd start by talking to the producer of the segment. We'd find out why someone else was listed as the songwriter and not you. It's possible the producer may have information that contradicts your claims. If that's the case and an investigation supports the producer then your letter would not provide satisfaction for you. If the producer can't provide a reasonable response, the lawyer may contact you to get more information (and perhaps settle the dispute). Alternatively, the lawyer may blow you off and not do anything and wait to see whether you will file a lawsuit. (Sad to say, the response might be different if the letter were from a lawyer.) BTW, you should also file a copyright application for the song if you have not done so already. If you plan on soon filing a lawsuit, you may have to take advantage of the expensive expedited application process
How you can improve your letter. The most effective cease and desist letters are the ones that anticipate all arguments from the other side. So if you have facts that demonstrate that the other alleged composer is not the true composer, you should succinctly introduce your facts and anticipate the station's arguments. You don't need to show all your cards. You can say, "I have facts that contradict any claims that someone else has written this song." Also we know that lawyers spout stuff like "pursuant to Title 17 of the U.S. Code"  but  we think that's kind of bunk. Why not just say "Under U.S. copyright law ..." Finally, avoid threatening a lawsuit. That may give rise to what's known as a declaratory judgment action and you may not want to be drawn into a court battle. It's best to wind up with something such as, "If we cannot reach a prompt resolution of this matter, I will have no choice but to pursue other legal options."