The Copyright Minefield: The complex world of protecting artist’s work and limiting broad access to it at the same time.

I know and understand very little about copyright law and companies such as BMI and ASCAP ways of working. So my observations come from a place of confusion more than anything. However, the bottom line about this complex world is that no matter how big or small you are, organizations and companies like BMI and ASCAP, as well as unions, have control over the entire music business.

When I signed contracts in Germany to be a full-time singer in a theater, I agreed to allow the Theater the right to use my image in photos, videos, and also audio recordings for use as promotional material for the theater. So they have the rights over my work.

In Germany, there is an organization that protects artists as well and so if a theater makes a recording with you on it, then you have a right to royalties whenever that material is used in broadcasting. Now for me, this wasn’t the case. But, for some it is.

I am curious about how social media gets away with publishing copyrighted material on their websites. The vast piracy of musician’s work online is out of control and has really hurt the recording industry greatly. While exposure on social media has it’s value, that exposure doesn’t usually convert itself into income for the artists.

When a locale such as bars, cafes, restaurants, and event venues have performances that include music protected by BMI or ASCAP, then they have to pay an upfront royalty per year, and I believe keep track of what is performed either live or on recordings in their restaurants.

For some establishments, it is a lot to ask because their revenue isn’t such that they can afford to pay much in the way of fees for music.

However, when you consider it further, you know that music is a way to attract business to your Etablissement. The venue earns money because a concert is being offered “for free” to get people to come in and listen to it. So, the venue earns income from this activity. Often they don’t pay the musicians, they let them pass the hat, or put a dime in the jar, in support of them.

Doing pop music as a cover artist put you right in the crosshairs of this jungle of copyright infringement. On one hand, I believe the person who wrote the song should get credit for having written a song that gets performed, but on the other hand it also prevents that music from getting played.

This goes into the confusing realm of photography, videography, as well.

A photographer owns the pictures they take of you. You, however, have no right to use that photo, even when it is you in the picture without asking permission for it. It only really matters if you make money from that work.

One reason why I don’t have as many recordings of my work, photos, videos, and audios, is because I don’t own the rights to any of the work I ever did. In other words, my income was limited to that one live performance under a contract with those companies. To get the right to use any of that material to promote me, or to archive it on a website, is really a question. The fact is, is that the director, the costume designer, the set designer, the conductor, the orchestral players, all have a claim on the same thing you are in the picture of.

The copyright system is great in protecting the rights of creators, but it is also a huge dilemma for many artists who happen to be a part of a bigger picture.

The bottom line is, it doesn’t really matter what you do, but one thing you should do as an artist is to create your own material so that when you perform it, you have the complete rights over it.

Honestly, I don’t know anything about copyright laws. This article is proof of that. It is one area I can learn about to help people become successful artists in the future.

Really, as expensive as they are, having a lawyer on your side is worth its weight in gold.

Musicians and all artists should know, having a lawyer and an accountant that you can get advice and guidance from is a necessity. The law punishes the knowledgeable and the ignorant.