November 19, 2011

A Note About How Copyright Doesn't Work...

by Chris Randall

One question I get with fairly alarming regularity in the AD Info box goes something like this: "I bought $PLUG_IN from you, and I'm going to use it to make samples to sell. Is there some sort of royalty I need to pay?"

I had a fellow a month or so ago that downloaded our three free plug-ins, then wrote me a lengthy request for freedom from indemnity should he actually use them.

If I only got this question and its variants once or twice, I'd just chalk it up to "kids today." But it comes pretty frequently, enough to be a little alarming. And enough to actually warrant me saying this out loud: There is NO SCENARIO in which you need to pay royalties to an instrument or effects maker for the use of a product you purchased, or which the maker gave you, in no legal system in any country.

I will grant that copyright is a somewhat confusing subject, made all the more so by the addition of things like Creative Commons, which only serve to complicate it. (I would wager that 1 in 100 that use Creative Commons licenses actually understand what they're doing.) Audio Damage can patent a sound-generation method, and exploit that patent, but we can not copyright the resulting sounds. There is no mechanism by which this can occur.

Things get a little odd when it comes to sample collections. The onus is on the creator of the sample set to make it clear to the customer the nature of the license he purchased. In the early days of sample CDs, I bought one that was made by George Clinton, and the obligatory license was roughly the same as the hoops you'd have to go through and what you'd have to pay to use a snip of an actual P-Funk song. And many of the sample sets for GigaStudio in the early days of that program had licensing that was so ridiculous you essentially couldn't use the products without a legal team on standby, and a checkbook at hand.

But that's a different thing entirely. We're talking about plug-ins. To the best of my knowledge (which, in this case, is fairly extensive) it is impossible to copyright the output of an instrument, or a sound that has been altered by an effect, if you purchased a product expressly for that purpose, sold as such. While it'd be nice to get a couple cents every time a song was played with Dubstation on it, the simple fact of the matter is that ain't how things work.


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Nov.19.2011 @ 12:53 PM
It would be like me having to pay an extra tax on beer every time I procreated as a result of excessive consumption

Nov.19.2011 @ 1:51 PM
I think some soft synths have a license that say you can't use one of their programs verbatim - where you hold one-note and get a full production as library music. Like Stylus or Omnisphere. But combine two of them or layer something else on and you're OK.

But yeah, most plug-in effects don't make any sound of their own, it's just input x FSU = output.

Nov.19.2011 @ 2:42 PM
It should be mandatory for everyone making music, with the intent to sell it, to do a course in basic music business law...

Nov.19.2011 @ 2:44 PM
Mr. Nakamura & Mr. Matsuoka of Roland would be very, very rich if you had to pay royalties on the output of electronic music machines....

Nov.19.2011 @ 4:15 PM
Well, I suspect Mr. Nakamura & Mr. Matsuoka of Roland are very rich, but that's another story.

What I wonder in this whole scenario is why these folks think that they would have to pay royalties? Is there someone out there suggesting to them that they must?

Nov.19.2011 @ 4:23 PM
the grey areas start to arise when you think about making sample libraries from instruments:

one the one hand, no one thinks it's a problem to make a fender guitar sample library.

on the other, a lot of people think that making a sample library of the Korg M1 piano would be illegal.

Nov.19.2011 @ 5:17 PM
Chris Randall
I just think a sample library of the Korg M1 piano would be stupid. But that's only an opinion.

@synthetic: Good fucking luck making that case in court. That's like Stanley suing a carpenter because he had the temerity to use one of their hammers to make a house. That dog don't hunt.


Nov.19.2011 @ 5:41 PM
beauty pill
If someone was making "Best Of Tattoo" or "Best Of Phosphor" sample sets and sold them for $10 less than the actual instruments and didn't offer you a cut, we'd all agree that'd be uncool, right?

By uncool, I don't just mean "hack" (which it certainly would be) but also "a violation of an implied understanding." Right? With respect to trademark name/likeness stuff, right? Not so much "copyright" in the strictest sense of the word.

Or am I off?

My brother's a patent attorney and deals with intellectual property all day long, but I never "talk shop" with him.

- c

Nov.19.2011 @ 5:46 PM
Most SAMPLE based soft synths, and all free standing sample libraries, would incorporate a licensing language that prohibits using the sample base sounds to make another sample library for sale, as well as putting your finger down once, flicking it into FillerTracks and calling it a good days work. As for any other legal usage concerns for any other music production tool, there shouldn't be. ...back to my iMaschine ditty, oops hope I'm in the clear on that since I mean to have a major hit with it! Now, how many fingers did I use again?

Nov.19.2011 @ 5:55 PM
beauty pill
Yes, but the fact that Tattoo and Phosphor don't work with samples is a little bit aside from what I'm outlining.

I'm talking about trading on the name and the perceived value behind it.

I mean, it's only a matter of time until we see BEST OF TEMPEST sample sets on the market, as wrong-headed and reductionist as that would be. I'm betting a few emerge before Christmas.

The question is whether those sample sets will actually use the name or be coy about it.

I'm betting coy.

- c

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