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Out of copyright cover versions

posted on #1
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Can anybody clarify the rules on this, please? As I understand it, songs become public domain 70 years after the death of the artist. So, for example, could I record & post a cover of "Motherless Children" by Blind Willie Johnson, who passed away on September 18, 1945 (cutting it fine, I know), without Dick being carried off to prison for copyright violation?


"All music is folk music. I aint never heard no horse sing a song".
Louis Armstrong
posted on #2
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Hey WanHu!
This is one of the very delicate questions here,
your concept of "author dead + 70 years" is a good starting point into the matter,
it obviously seems to be a mistake to believe that this "simple" rule can safely be applied.
I believe one of the reasons is the fact that lyric & composition rights are treated seperately (so you have two people who need to die!), and by creating renditions of an original work, more authors can claim rights, potentially much later than the first ones died (...).
This matter is way too complicated to be able to handle, one would have to do research on around 100 new uploads a day...
To me, the most important aspect is this:
Even if you are one of those who do research before uploading,
we have to face the fact that many of our users wont.
Having a mixture of copyright free homemade music and some well-researched copyright free cover songs would definetly mislead some new members to believe it was OK to post covers - "I've seen you allowed "Motherless Children", why do you complain about me uploading "Hapy Birthday" ?" is a discussion I really hate to have, speaking as the main mod of the loops.
So, from my experience so far, I'd conclude we are off best by just saying "no cover tunes whatsoever" on wikiloops - anything else is not communicatable I'm affraid.
You'd be surprised to learn how little most of our users care about reading instructions - I've learned that much in the past years :)
posted on #3
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Hi Dick. Thanks for the quick clarification. Shame, I was quite proud of my cover version, but guess I'll have to take it down to to the local open mic night and bore them with it.

I have posted a few songs with lyrics by Robert Burns, a Scottish poet who was a contemporary of Mozart, and who's work is demonstrably in the public domain. I also know a guy who is a top copyright lawyer, not very well, but well enough to put an interesting legal conundrum to him, ie where is it safe to draw a line? I'll let you know if I manage to get anything out of him.
"All music is folk music. I aint never heard no horse sing a song".
Louis Armstrong
posted on #4
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Such a pity copyright laws are not universal ! In Australia it is very simple you can cover and record any song you like as long as you are a member of the musicians union they then take care of dispersment of any royalties that have to be paid as well as collecting any royalties owed to you !
posted on #5
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That's interesting, Lairdy. Didn't know that happened.

I think Dick's reason to just stay out of the covers thing is absolutely right. It's way simpler to just say 'no covers' than the time, effort and risk involved in trying to police such marginal things.

I would also argue that from a developing musician perspective, having all this original music gets one to think about one's own ideas and interpretations rather than just copy others. For improving a musician's improvisational and jam skills, this place cannot be beaten.
posted on #6
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re Lairdy:
I'm affraid it is not as simple as you say, I'm not familiar with he australian musicians guild, but quite familiar with the german one...
Your assumption that "they take care of any royalties that need to be paid" is misleading, they are certainly not going to pay for you, but they are going to go after someone who they feel should be paying.

An example: You play a michael jackson cover in sydney stadium, universal music holds the rights and expects a chunky royalty payment.
They are part of the guild, and the guild will indeed see to it that they get their money, but where do they get that from?
In this example, they'll collect it off the venue or the one who organized the concert- they will certainly not pay it from their pocket.

If you are part of such a guild and upload tracks to wikiloops, they will eventually approach me and ask me to pay the due royalties because you are one of their protected members.
Even if you would tell them not to, they would not like that - the german guild actually would ask YOU to pay the royalties for your own material in this case, simply because it doesn't make any sense to join a guild and say "Hey, you guys take care of my royalties please" and then start giving away music for free. The two concepts just don't go together well, which is the main reason why I never joined such a guild.

The main aspect here is not the copyright question, but the question of "is there a third party except you and wikiloops which is involved in the legal aspects of a piece of music".
If you are a member of a guild, that guild is such a third party, because they are entitled to act on behalf of their members.
This is quite a complicated legal situation, which is why the WL rules ask you to confirm that there is no such third party involved.
To get on the safe side, you would have to set up an agreement with your guild to only take care of the repertoire you perform outside of places like WL, but they will not be happy about such individual requests.

The german guild is a really tough one, they will not let you do that.
You can tell them you are showcasing some tracks on your own homepage, which they'd let you do free of charge, but you can't even upload a track to youtube without them coming out of the bush and asking who will pay the roaylties on that. They actually manage to block videos on Youtube, too.
Bottom line: If you are part of a musicians guild, better make sure to read the smallprint of what they allow you to do. And keep in mind if you give them the right to take care of your legal claims, they might just do that, even if it involves lawsuits against your very favorite music platform.
This is not an easy matter at all, which is why the "no third party has rights" policy has to be confirmed when uploading to wikiloops.

Sorry for the lengthy post, but I felt this needed clarification.
posted on #7
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Joined: 03.12.14
I understand your concerns mate and I do agree not doing covers here is the simplest way of avoiding problems . You have my full suport there !
But reading what you say above may open another can of worms ! If what you say is correct then if I write lyrics to a tune on here and those lyrics are my lyrics does that mean they can't be played on here anymore ?
Because I'm a member of a musicians Union ?
Edited by onewholeft on July 21 2016 11:59
posted on #8
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Maybe I'm an idealist or purist...doesn't matter. This site is special because you can come to it every day and hear new original music that's done in collaboration. There is nothing else like it. I don't see this as a place for cover versions...ever. If playing cover versions is a person's desire there are thousands of places they can go. Why should this site destroy it's unique position and reputation? Not only do I NEVER want to play a cover version I don't want to hear any...otherwise I wouldn't be hanging out here. Seems to me that almost everybody here seems similarly inclined. This is a ark of creativity in an internet sea of copyists.
posted on #9
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I agree but what I'm asking is ! Once a singer adds words it is copyrighted to that singer ! So technically speaking it can't be played here if the singer is a member of a music Union such as APRA in Australia !
posted on #10
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Well put, MrDumps :)

Now, let me try to answer Lairdys question as clearly as possible.

First of all, I would like to make one thing clear:
The "musicians union member"-problematic we are talking about is indeed an issue, but I would like to emphasize that it is not wikiloops who is to blame here.

Let's look at it again:
If you decide(d) to join a musicians union, what you did is say:
"Hey, I would like you guys to take care of my creative output instead of managing that myself."
The way they are entitled to represent you and your claims from that moment on may vary a bit from union to union, so I cannot say much about the small print in australia, BUT:

The question is: Are they representing you as a person, and thus are entitled to represent your claims in everything you will ever produce musically,
or are they representing you on a "per creative work"-basis, which would have to go along with you telling them which works you want them to protect.

If the latter is the case, then you have a flexible union, and you could basicly tell them to protect song A and B, but not Track C which you shared for free on some website.
All i can say is the german union does not offer such flexibility, they work on a "per person" basis, and getting single works out of their grip is quite complicated.

It comes down to:
If you make a deal with someone (the union), telling them they shall be your exclusive partner and representative, then you can't turn around and go ahead as you like making deals with other people (or web platforms).
If you contract the union to collect your revenues, you have to accept that they will do that- if anything else was possible, anyone who ever got a little famous would have excluded his material from the unions right away and started to collect the dow him- or herself... if you think about it a little, it does make some sense, there would be no way to operate a musicians union.

So, in your individual case, you should have a close look at the smallprint of your union contract and try to find out if you are still entitled to granting people free use of your material, and what action needs to be taken to inform the union that these works of yours are not to be protected thru them.

One last thing:
This may seem highly complicated and quite absurd in times where people seem to think youtube has revolutionized music copyrights. That's a pretty sad misperception, the legal situation is still pretty much the same as before the internet.
What keeps us out of trouble up until now is one very, very simple thing:
You are probably not registerred as "Lairdy333" in your union contract, so they will have a hard time realizing it is one of their members publishing here on wikiloops.
posted on #11
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Copyright is around everywhere if you notice artist are sue for just about anything take Led Zepplin for instance. They was just in court for a song they did that sounded close to one of theirs. So to be safe and keep wikiloops alive anything close to a cover song could be taken down the road of the courts. Sad but true if they want to try to sue for something they will. Just the world we live in today. Myself I feel if my song was copyrighted I would want it play by whom ever so it got exposure. Just my thoughts on this subject.
posted on #12
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We saw quite some reaction to my previous post in the shoutbox, so let me add some more thought here.

Now, lets assume you just realized the "union members"-problematic as outlined above does apply to you, but you really just realized there is a problem here and now you are wondering what to do with the tracks you have already posted to wikiloops.

Let's take a deep breath and think this thru:
First of all, there is no need to panic, since you have not received any email from my end telling you we were facing a legal claim by your union - it may happen any day, but it has not happened so far.

What you can do to prevent that is to remove all your tracks, right?
Now that would be quite a dramatic solution to the problem, but may seem the solution at hand.
If you know the wikiloops rules a little, you will know that you may delete any upload of yours without problems under the one condition that no one else has posted a remix of that song.
So far, so good. But what about all the remixed tunes?
If they were to be deleted (yours), all tracks involving your track (the remixes of your tracks) will have to be deleted as well, because you are part of them, and the remix-branches would be broken once we remove a track that has a remix attached.
That means, someone will have to inform these remixers about this whole situation and explain to them why we have to remove their precious tracks.
Needless to say, that is not a nice job to do, and not a nice user experience for the people who took the effort to create those remixes.

I hate to say it, but with this scenario in mind, I feel it is necessary to point out who is to blame for this mess...
Both wikiloops and the remixing users are not to blame, since everyone relied on your statement when stating "I am the only one holding rights on this, and I'm granting you the right to go ahead and create remixes" - the first half of which just turned out to be plain wrong, at the price of causing me a week of work to clean up the mess (I had to do it before) and frustrating X other wikiloops users who see their tracks removed.
That's not good, to say the least, and -as you will understand- that would end in your account being closed and further registration being blocked.

The only other option we have is to make a straightforeward deal with your union to allow what you have been doing, while the question remains what the cost of negotiating such a deal might be and who would pay that annual fee... you know the budget situation of this project, right?

There may be other ways to solve this in a rather shady way which I will not add here in this public scenario, and which I do not feel good about anyways.
The damage is done I'm affraid...

All one can say in conclusion is that it would be nice if people would read all this as a strong reminder to act responsibly,
a case like this one blowing up in a legal case involving international lawyers would be enough to ruin the wikiloops project financially.
You wouldn't want to be the one who is responsible for that I guess.

If you find yourself at the end of this post thinking "shizzle, what do I do now?", I recommend getting in touch with me by PM.
As you may be able to tell by my words I'll do my best to act reasonably, even tho the scenario is not an easy one to carry once you are aware of the possible endings.
Mistakes happen, let's do our best to find a good solution.
posted on #13
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One thing that has puzzled me for some time is the opposite situation:
I have some track here at wikiloops that i decide to play live with my band.

next step, the guys i play togther with want to record the song.

Next step...

I sense that can get quite complicated too
Pure fingerstyle
posted on #14
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Looks like I'm going to spend half of this day with this thread :)
OK then, lets walk thru this opposite scenario as well, why not.

We'll actually have to do that twice, because the situation is different depending on one important aspect:
Is that song we are talking about one were you supplied the template,
or one you joined?
I'll try to cover both cases as short as possible.

Scenario A: You supplied the track as a template, with you playing the guitar.
When uploading to wikiloops, you give wikiloops a non-exclusive and non-revocable license to share this track free of any charge. (I'll not quote the whole darn license here, it's in the terms of use for anyone who wants to read it)
If you decide to use the track in some other context, you are totally free to do so, and wikiloops has no right to tell you not to (that's the non-exclusive part).
The only thing you cannot do is sell the track (or rights to use it) to someone exclusively - you have already licensed it with wikiloops, so any other deal will have to be non exclusive as well.
This may be unacceptable for professional record labels (why try to sell a track thats out there for free?), but since you and your band would record a different version, this might not be as much of an issue as one might think.
As long as you dont make the mistake to sell the track exclusively, anyone trying to sue the other party will fail, because your record company can show the wikiloops lawyer the contract you signed with them, and wikiloops can show the record labels lawyers the license agreement you accepted, so there is a clear situation about who may do what, and anyone will have to accept you as the author of the work are free to make non exclusive agreements with as many parties as you like.

Scenario B:
Let's say there was a wikiloops track with bass and drums, and you added guitar.
What you will need in this case is the two other participants OK to use their ideas in your commercial project (if your band does a hobby recording which won't be sold, you dont even need to ask - that's private use).
Given you get the other two users consent to issue a non-exclusive deal, all the steps outlined in the first case are valid.

Bottom line - I don't feel either case is too complicated to solve in a good and clean way.

The idea that it is good practise to sell a cow only to one farmer and not to several ones at the same time applies here as well, and it is true that cows who may be milked by several people are more difficult to sell than exclusive cows, but there is little surprise potential about that.
If you chose to give something away for free, it seems like common sense not to expect other people to have to pay for the same thing later.
Thinking about it, the only folks acting outside of these rules are stock market brokers (who love to sell the same cow to multiple people) and windows10 developers (who believe they can sell the product after giving it away for free), but we'll agree to be happy not to sit in their boats, right?
If you find someone who wants to strike a deal with you, wikiloops does not stand in your way. That's our idea of a fair musicians community.
posted on #15
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It would be nice for us users of this site to try and make Dick's life as easy as possible and appreciate what he has provided. Yes there may be instances where an impending situation requires an answer. Hypothetical questions, although potentially valid, may not need Dick's immediate attention or ever need attention.

IMHO Dick has been very open and fir minded concerning these issues of copyright and NOT said what to me would have been the most obvious solution: If you are bringing with you union/copyright baggage make sure you leave it at the door or bugger off. It seems to me that we need to have some respect for how important this project is to so many and NEVER do anything to jeopardize it or Dick. Please people, stop and consider.
posted on #16
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Joined: 03.12.14
Wade wrote:
It would be nice for us users of this site to try and make Dick's life as easy as possible and appreciate what he has provided. Yes there may be instances where an impending situation requires an answer. Hypothetical questions, although potentially valid, may not need Dick's immediate attention or ever need attention.

IMHO Dick has been very open and fir minded concerning these issues of copyright and NOT said what to me would have been the most obvious solution: If you are bringing with you union/copyright baggage make sure you leave it at the door or bugger off. It seems to me that we need to have some respect for how important this project is to so many and NEVER do anything to jeopardize it or Dick. Please people, stop and consider.
posted on #17
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Joined: 03.12.14
Well Wade ! Yes i am a member of a music Union in Australia APRA and i believe they do a good job and help out many musicians in Australia with many issues ! So i can only assume from your comment here you are telling me to in your words ( Bugger Off ) Have you ever done a gig where the venue after you have played for 3.5 hours says sorry we didn't get the amount of people we expected so we have decided note to pay you guys ( Or as you put it Bugger off ) That is why we have musicians unions !
Yes Dick needs to be protected and that is why questions need to be asked !
Keith Laird APRA Member and proud of it !!!!!
Edited by onewholeft on July 22 2016 02:07
posted on #18
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uh, this is not going into any constructive direction from this point on.
thread ends here.
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