General Question

Poser's avatar

Who owns a copyright?

Asked by Poser (7805points) August 21st, 2007

I wrote a song and found a "part-time" producer. He's been playing music in my area for several decades, and his hobby is helping musicians get some of their music professionally recorded. Since he was friends with the studio owner/engineer, he paid a discount rate. He also paid some of his musician friends to sit in on the recording. This was all on the verbal agreement that he would be entitled to a portion of the profits from this song, assuming there would ever be any. I didn't pay anything to have the song recorded.

I know I own the copyright to the song itself, but does the producer own the copyright to the recording? Since he paid all the other parties, he would be the only one entitled to the rights to that particular recording of my song, as everyone else was "for hire." But I haven't found anything in copyright law that refers to a recording. Only the song itself.

Also, what if I wanted to take the recording to another studio and pay musicians to duplicate the parts of the song that his musician friends played? Would that be allowed, or are those parts copyrighted?

I received a copy of the recording. Am I at risk for copyright infringement if I publish the song online, even if I'm making no money from it? I would assume that even if it went to legal action, he'd be hard pressed to prove it since there was no contract involved. But I want to do the right thing, not just what I can get away with.

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8 Answers

Gavel's avatar

Clearly you need to speak to a copyright lawyer who specialises in the music industry. However, my take on this is that he owns the copyright to the recording (as does your wedding photographer to the snaps he takes) but you own the copyright to the composition. Therefore, he cannot use his recording without your permission (ditto your wedding snaps) and you are free to do as you please, since you are the author of the piece.
But check with that lawyer ...

Poser's avatar

Thanks. That's kind of what I figured.

Incidentally, I still don't understand how a wedding photographer can still own the copyright to photos that his customers pay for, since he's creating something "for hire." An ad agency doesn't own the copyright to a company's advertisment, the company that hired them does. That's a pretty explicit point in the copyright laws. Seems if you're going to spend thousands of dollars on a photographer, you ought to own the rights to those images.

hossman's avatar

I am really sorry I can't be of any help here, but I took copyright law in 1994, have never used it, and probably remember just enough to be dangerous.

glial's avatar

You wrote the song; it is your song. The recording is insignificant. Just as if someone else recorded it and put it online, it would still be your property. You couldn't go after the recording, just the infringement of the use of the music and lyrics.

glial's avatar

One more addition: Think about this. If someone went to a concert and recorded a bootleg on a pocket recorder. Would the song then become their property? Of course not.

Plus you have no contract and hopefully you have at least a "poor man" copyright of the work.

cwilbur's avatar

The wedding photographer owns the copyright because he has a contract that says so. Otherwise it would be considered work for hire.

xyzzy's avatar

Poser, an ad agency does own the copyright to what they produce. However, they sell the copyright to the client along with the actual ad itself. Similarly with a photographer, only he usually chooses not to sell the copyright. It’s all in the contract you sign, and the vast majority will be explicit on who ends up with the copyright.

“Work for hire” as a default generally only exists in a employer-employee arrangement, or when a buyer wants to swindle a producer out of their material by claiming it was ‘work for hire’.

Kayak8's avatar

There is another missing piece in this equation. There are several organizations (BMI, ASCAP, etc.) one of which you must join to get any royalties. You join, then for every song you write, you fill out all sorts of forms indicating who all wrote lyrics, who all wrote the music. They also have other forms to document who did which recording of a given song (think of all the people who record covers of other people’s material—each recording of a particular song must be tracked separately to give appropriate credit). Then BMI or ASCAP is the entity who follows any airtime your song(s) receives. This is necessary for the royalty thing to work. Without this, there are no royalties ($$$) to be had.

It is possible that the individual you are talking about is a member of one of these organizations and has filed the paperwork on this specific rendition of your song. If so, everytime it gets played, he may be making the money . . .

BMI and ASCAP track what is being played on the radio, in clubs, etc. . . .

This is above and beyond copyright . . .

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