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mirifique's avatar

Question for songwriters: what are the inherent risks of sending original songs to your friends via e-mail?

Asked by mirifique (1511 points ) December 15th, 2009

I might be overly paranoid about this, but I’m hesitant to send some original songs to people via e-mail out of fear that they might get into the wrong hands after being forwarded for the 3rd, 4th, 5th times and be stolen… My name is “encoded” into the songs, but from an intellectual property/copyright standpoint, am I making myself vulnerable by sending songs via e-mail (and which unlike being posted on a website, do not have a written “copyright”)? Is it wiser to simply post the songs to sites like MySpace or Soundclick?

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10 Answers

Axemusica's avatar

This is why I never put up originals on my youtube. I’m afraid someone will steal my licks.

mirifique's avatar

@Axemusica How do you share your music? I mean if you are a performer, do you think the same risks exist (someone could record you performing and steal your “lycks”)?

Axemusica's avatar

I play it for people. Also, myspace has a secure way of presenting your tracks. You just make it so it’s not downloadable, but don’t quote me I’m not sure how secure. I leave presentation to my singer. He’s the guy that knows about pro tools. I just shred when he says, “Ok. Go!”

delta214's avatar

If they are your friends then tell them not to forward it to anyone.
If you cant trust your friends who can you trust?

Dominic's avatar

Having a copyright notice is completely irrelevant. Copyright vests in the author upon fixation: i.e. when you made the mp3. That being said, you restrict the amount of money you can recover in a lawsuit if you don’t officially register your copyright.

mirifique's avatar

@Dominic How concerned/paranoid should I be about forwarding these songs to my friends then (the friends of friends of friends of which might forward it to someone who might copy the song, etc… I realize I’m presuming the song will be that popular, but still).

Jeruba's avatar

@delta214, reminds me of one of my favorite lines from the old TV detective series Simon & Simon: “If you can’t betray your friends, who can you betray?”

Jack79's avatar

1. If they’re your friends, you should be able to trust them with anything, though some people are less reliable than others in this day and age.

2. Your songs are probably worth a lot more to you than they are to others. This doesn’t mean they’re not good enough, but if they are good enough to steal, they’ll probably be good enough to promote. If you’re the next Bob Dylan or Paul Simon, the chances of your songs ending up at some record producer who will genuinely want to help you (and also make a decent commission himself) are far higher than those of some evil songwriter who needs to steal your songs because his aren’t good enough. No matter how good your songs are, I’d never steal them for example, because I’ve got hundreds of my own to promote. Though if they are truly amazing, I might be tempted to sing them without paying you royalty fees. But I’d still credit you if I ever included them in an album or something.

3. In the unlikely scenario that Madonna gets hold of your masterpiece and turns it into a hit, you can always use the original emails (or other proof that your version of the song predates hers) and take her to court, making a lot more than you’d ever make trying to sell the song to her legitimately. Which in turn means that Madonna (and her army of well-paid lawyers) would never do something that stupid. They’d simply send over a clerk with a $200 cheque which you’d probably accept in the current crisis.

So basically, make sure you can prove the songs are yours, then send them to as many people as possible.

Dominic's avatar

@mirifique: Let’s take what I imagine to be the worst case scenario, where your friend takes the song, claims he wrote it, and sells it to a record company, which makes the Jonas Brothers sing it, and they sell millions of albums with that song on it.

The fact is that under US Copyright law, you had the copyright in that song from the very moment you wrote it down. If you never wrote it down, you had copyright in that song from the moment you recorded it as an MP3 or OGG or whatever. (Funny story: you can have two separate copyrights: one in the underlying composition, and a second in the particular recording.)

So, essentially, neither your friend nor the record company have a valid claim to that copyright. If either of them registered the copyright, a court would assume that they were the author, but you’re entitled to rebut that presumption at trial. It’s not ironclad — but you will have to make sure you can prove when you wrote the song. (Hint: registering your work is a really good way to prove when you wrote it, but not the only way.) You can sue anyone who made money by infringing on your copyright to your song for the profits you lost and/or the money they made.

Registration provides some really cool benefits but it’s entirely unnecessary in order to obtain a copyright. If your friend copies the song, they’ve infringed your right to make copies of the song. It’s as simple as that. If they remix it or just steal the words, they’ve infringed your right to make derivative works of the song.

If you’re unfamiliar with what specific protections copyright gives the author, check out the list. If any of your friends (or anyone on the planet) does one of these things, you have remedies under the copyright law.

Hope this helps!

Also: I’m not a lawyer, and this isn’t legal advice. If you have a question about copyright, you need to ask an actual lawyer.

Jack79's avatar

Dominic’s answer is basically spot on. If someone steals your song and makes a huge hit out of it, it’s actually the best thing that could happen to you: you get to sue them and get some fame and a lot of money. Probably more than you could ever make on your own.

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