Creative Law: How not to get into hot water when making music

The topic of law is purposely obscure and difficult to understand, while it’s primary purpose is to avoid crime and to give everyone a fair chance, the human nature of ego and greed can push us toward the edge of what we should or shouldn’t do.

The world of music law is just as confusing as any industry, with the rights on a piece of music often being split between artists, labels, publishers, writers and performers, it can become hard to know who owns what.

While the vast majority of tracks in the digital age won’t be heard by more than a few people and likely won’t generate any income, a limited number of records become hits, making their labels, publishers and writers a potentially life-changing amount of money.

Music industry law-firm Creative Law held a panel at this years Brighton Music Conference with a number of guest speakers. Peter Oxendale from Peter Oxendale Music Services, Jules O’Riordan, a lawyer from Sound Advice and world-famous DJ Judge Jules, Saranne Reid from MD Sample Clearance Services and Richard Hoare all showed up to speak. The panel was moderated by Creative Law’s Dean Marsh.

The focus of the discussion was re-recordings and covers of existing music and what you’re required to do if you want to sample a sound or cover a piece of music. Peter Oxendale explained the misunderstood term of a ‘cover’, how it originated when people stole a sample or piece of music and ‘covered it up’. He also discussed that today a cover is a work that remains faithful to the integrity and character of the original work.

A stand out point the panel mentioned was the difference between today, in comparison to decades ago, before publishers had automated systems in place. Jules O’Riordan spoke about “In the early days of sampling you could probably get away with a lot more than you could now” with Saranne adding “Yes, I agree with that 100%.”

One of the subjects mentioned within the main theme of the panel was negotiating with publishers when covering or sampling a track. That a publisher is likely to request 100% of the rights, as they are simply representing the financial interests of their artists, but it is possible to get your share.

Saranne Reid said “If you’ve got a publisher who is difficult, you should argue your point, the publisher is representing their artist so they will push for 100%”. Jules added “younger publishers who understand what dance music is about are usually a bit more flexible.”

An argument some people might make is that a cover or remix is free exposure for the original artist behind the original work, but some artists simply don’t want their work copied, and are completely in their rights to feel that way.

Richard Hoare also spoke on the difference of today, that before digital releases a track had to be registered in order to be pressed to CD, but now a track can appear on Spotify 24 hours after it’s finished, before the original artist has a chance to dispute it. A recent example being Fleur East’s cover of Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk on XFactor placing in the charts before the original was officially released, and that it “happens so fast it’s impossible to stop.”

He also spoke about how an original artist might not even get paid for a cover, and that Spotify has missed an estimated $1.6 Billion in paid revenue to original artists on covers, the Swedish streaming giant has since bought a tech start-up to tackle the issue.

The panel closed with a Q&A, someone in the audience asked what to do if you write a track that contains more than one sample, Saranne answered “You should make everyone [publishers] aware that there are multiple samples.”

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