Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The web, copyright and enlightening discussion

This is an example of one of the things I like about the web. Barrister and computer forsensics expert, Alistair Kelman, wrote a short review of Music and Copyright by Ronald S. Rosen a little while ago.

Rosen, who defended John Williams when he got sued for copyright infringement over elements of his music for E.T., noticed the review and contacted Kelman about it. There followed an enlightening exchange about copyright law which is now available for anyone with a computer and a web connection to see.

Kelman had suggested that if some of the discussions about the specifics of the music in the book could have been recorded then it would make the arguments accessible to those not familiar with musical notation. Rosen agreed but noted that although he would have liked to record samples for the book and post an accompanying audio/video files on the web, the budget didn't stretch to getting the required licences for permission to do such recordings.

So to enlighten people about the intricacies of the arguments in the ET music case it would have been valuable to have illustrative audio and video samples. Yet to provide such samples (freely or commercially) would have laid the author open to a copyright infringement lawsuit (although he would probably be allowed to use such samples to illustrate his points in a courtroom) . Rosen, and remember he is a very experienced music copyright lawyer who knows the system better than most, hasn't given up hope of acquiring audio licences for a second edition of the book but this is complicated even if the music under consideration is in the public domain:
"If we are fortunate enough to publish a second edition, we might be a position to secure licenses for small portions of the sound recordings at reasonable rates. If, however, the current edition is highly successful, we may be able to get licenses for the second edition in exchange for crediting the record companies for the use of these extracts, if the composition is in the public domain. If, however, the music itself is also protected by copyright, we would need licenses from both the copyright owner of the sound recording and the owner of the copyright in and to the music. Looking over this paragraph, you will notice a lot of "ifs", which sums up the situation."
Interestingly enough the description of the book itself says:
"The highly topical area of copyright law, as applied to music, is widely misunderstood by lawyers, business people, and - perhaps most seriously - the federal judiciary. More than ever, there is a need to understand music infringement issues within the context of copyright litigation. In Music and Copyright , Ron Rosen provides readers with a practical and strategic roadmap to the music-infringement litigation process, beginning with the client's claim or defense and continuing through the selection and use of trial experts, discovery, motion practice, and trial."
If Rosen is right that music copyrights are so seriously and widely misunderstood (and I think he is) it is more than a little ironic that copyright law itself might be interfering with the ability to put a substantial dent in that unsatisfactory state of affairs.

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