Thursday, June 10, 2010

Claiming lyric copyright in vocal samples

Dear Rich, I read your post "Copyrighting tracks with vocal samples"...great read. I like that two music producers using the same vocal samples can co-exist in sample harmony. Does this apply to US only? I ask because my company sells vocal samples and most of my customers are from abroad, so I am wondering if your response applies to them as well. I have one customer in particular who is from Italy and registers their work through the Italian agency, SIAE. He tells me that a composer can fill out the SIAE form as just a composer without registering the melody. This is an option, but what happens if the composer does register our lyrics? Does the person from that moment (in Italy) become the author of the lyrics so he can claim rights vs other producer who will be using the same samples. Why the clouds? Because we're posting this from 34,961 feet (we're currently over Missouri) and what better place to discuss vocal samples. The Dear Rich Staff loves music samples--they're snippets of music that you can loop to create songs -- and we used to spend a disproportionate amount of time listening to and buying them.
Right, you had a question. Yes, we believe our previous answer should apply in most other countries. We checked your site and reviewed many of your vocal samples and we don't think there's much of a copyright issue, either for the U.S. or internationally. Your samples are all limited to a few words (i.e., "She's so fly," and "Play on playa"), so no user will be able to claim lyric copyright as to those phrases by themselves. As you know from previous blog entries, short phrases are not protected under copyright law. We can't vouch that's the rule internationally but if we were a betting blog, we'd bet that's the case. It's possible that if the entire song was built on these samples, a claim might be for a compilation or derivative copyright but that would not preclude others from using the samples or phrases. (We took a look at the basic principles of Italian copyright law and we think our answer is in the ballpark.)  
And speaking of short lyric phrases ... If we remember where we left it, we'll reproduce a story tomorrow about a copyright case in which someone tried to claim copyright on the phrase "Got my mojo working."