There are many misconceptions of what a copyright is. Who is it for or when do you get one? The truth is copyrights and all related issues are not easy to understand. Even people with law degrees couldn't tell you about the intricate aspects of the copyright act. You need to find someone who specializes in copyright law to get good answers to your questions.
I am not about to get into the finer points of the copyright act, but I do want to shed some light on an episode of Judge Judy that involved copyrighted material.
This is the story. I shall use aliases to protect the identities of the involved parties (besides, I don't remember their names). Jen, a singer, is bringing Jack and John, producers and studio owners, to court. Jen's claim is that she owns the copyrights to songs that were recorded by Jack and John. The songs have not been completely recorded. Jen has copyright documents dated March 2004. She has paid $1900 of the $2500 for studio costs, but is now suing for the digital masters (because she wants to finish her songs in another studio with another producer) and extra money to complete her recordings.
In their defense, Jack and John are arguing that they wrote the music, the lyrics, and the vocal melodies. They do not have any legal documents except for receipts for the $1900 in studio fees.
So who wins? Jack and John do not have any documents stating who the song belongs to. Jen, on the other hand, has the copyright documents and has paid $1900 in recording fees. One would say the songs clearly belong to her and she should be able to finish them with who ever she wants. She should win her claim for the masters, right?
Let's elaborate on the situation. Jack and John say that Jen recorded in their studios in the month of November 2003 and that they wrote the music and the vocal melodies and lyrics. So why are the copyrighted documents dated March 2004? Simple. Jen was only able to copyright the songs after she recorded them. But there's a little twist.
Jen admits that she could not have written any melodies and lyrics until Jack and John had laid down the beats and music for the songs. So Jack and John's claims of having written the music has been validated by no other than Jen herself. So Jen's claim to the copyrights are questionable. All she did was go behind Jack and John's backs and filed the proper copyright documentation with the Library of Congress. Sneaky Jen.
So what happens to the masters? This is what the lawsuit is all about in the first place, not who owns the copyrights. Jen made a mistake in thinking that she could get the masters to her songs by simply having the proper copyright documents because of one of the fundamental principles of the copyright act,
Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright.
This principle works the other way around. Just because you have the copyrights to a song doesn't mean you automatically own the masters or any other recordings of that song. Anyone can re-record a previously released song as long as they pay proper fees/royalties directly to the song's copyright holder if they plan on releasing the song commercially. So I can re-record Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, but it doesn?t mean I own the copyrights.
So Jen loses the lawsuit. Nice try Jen, but just because you own the copyrights (which are questionable to begin with), doesn't mean you can take the masters and do whatever you want with them. Looks like you'll have to start from scratch. I doubt the studio owners are going to give you their masters. You should have been nice and gave credit where credit was deserved.
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