A Quick Guide To Content Copyrights

    December 27, 2005
    WebProNews Staff

Copyright and intellectual property rights will be a big issue for webmasters in the coming years. Google’s Book Search offering caused quite a stir with publishers this year and the new music search function may or may not be an issue, depending on how the function is perceived by the music industry. This article will address some of the questions surround Fair Use and copyright law, especially as it pertains to music lyrics.

The president of the Music Publishers Association recently stated that the organization plans to take action against sites that post song lyrics without the proper licensing. Also possibly included in the action is the posting of tablature, a transcribed and simplified notation of how music is to be played, often learned and noted by ear for instruction.

Charles S. Sanders, Senior Vice President of Legal and International Affairs for the Harry Fox Agency, told WebProNews that both lyrics and tablature rights belong to the creator or third party publisher, under the Copyright Act of 1976.

“That tablature is copyrightable is also beyond question,” he said. “Chord progression, though is up in the air. It’s a question of Fair Use. It’s impossible to predict where Fair Use is going to come down.”

Sanders cited the recent Grokster ruling and maintained that, even in the new and relatively unprecedented Internet era where publishers like Warner-Chappell and Hal Leonard may not explicitly have electronic print rights, the courts have been sympathetic to copyright owners.

Sanders was unfamiliar with Google’s new music search function and could not say conclusively that the search engine would have problems in the future. But, says Sanders, “it could be an issue.”

Warner-Chappell’s Jay Morgenstern, however, says that Google will probably not have any beef from his organization now that Google has a relationship with America Online, which is in the Warner Brothers family of businesses.

So the question still remains as to exactly how much, if any, of copyrighted material can be legally used under Fair Use when producing content for a website.

Music publisher Hal Leonard would prefer you seek permission to use the material they have the rights to, even if you just plan to use an excerpt. Though they would prefer that, Fair Use disagrees.

“Fair use is a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism.”

For example, we can cite a portion of Fiona Apple’s “Pale September,” whom Hal Leonard represents.

“He goes along just as a water lily
Gentle on the surface of his thoughts his body floats
Unweighed down by passion or intensity
Yet unaware of the depth upon which he coasts
And he finds a home in me
For what misfortune sows, he knows my touch will reap”

In the writer’s opinion, this is one of the finest lyrical contributions in music history. The snippet of text and commentary on the text is covered under Fair Use.

But if there is any doubt, the Fair Use website offers guidelines for webmasters as well as “Five Ways to Stay Out of Trouble” when it comes to questions of copyright on the Internet.