Don't think intellectual property rights are important? You should read up on Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films (using a chord from George Clinton's "Get Off You're ### and Jam") and, the more recently notorious Blurred Lines suit (the Gaye estate v. Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I., for the sonic similarity between Thicke and Gaye's songs). These two cases deal major blows to the music industry. Not only do the cases deal financial damage, awarding $4 million in Bridgeport and $7.4 million in Blurred Lines, but they deal heavy legal precedent.
Bridgeport clearly states, "[G]et a license or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way." And, Blurred Lines reveals that with focusing on musical, an artist/group can be found infringing on another's work if the new work seems to borrow significantly from the original/older work. For some time, sampling or basing work off musical icons, or unknowns, has been a music practice. A practical defense reliance has been to assume the law is grey and that if not using a significant amount, this practice should be okay. Well, it seems the law is trending from grey to black. So, what does this mean?
It means multiple things:
- Licensing is more critical; and
- Copyrighting is more critical.
Licensing, essentially, in this musical context, is obtaining the permission from a creator to utilize his or her work or portion thereof. The license will detail things like the scope of use, the compensation of use, the duration of use, and more. As courts are revealing that they are looking into musical/sonic elements to determine whether infringement exists, it may be in an artist's best interest to determine whether he or she is sampling and whether it is necessary to execute a license.
Regarding copyright, even though it can be a simple process, often goes overlooked. In the current climate of the battle over I.P., it is important for artists/groups to precisely effectuate proper copyrights to sounds, lyrics and the like. Without the proper copyrights in place, it will be extremely difficult to protect one's own craft in the case an artist's music is recognized and sampled or used otherwise without permission.
Ask yourself, is this mine? Do I have permission to use this? Is my art protected?