How often are musical ideas stolen?

Protect compositions properly

by Dr. Richard Brunner,

How do you protect your compositions? We'll educate you about the copyright of music! At the latest when you want to get out of the rehearsal cellar and up on the stage, you should know how you can protect yourself from the musical meltdown - a song theft.

(Image: PIXELIO)

While jamming in the rehearsal room you developed a really cool song: memorable harmonies, a rousing rhythm, a soulful text with a melody that immediately crawls into the ear canals and doesn't want to leave there. Maybe this song has what it takes to be the next big hit. Then, of course, the question arises as to what one has to do to have this composition protected so that no one else receives fame, honor and fortune. The surprising answer is: nothing at all! But now please don't panic. That is not to say that you are defenseless song thieves. Rather, according to the German copyright law, compositions are protected by default without you having to initiate anything special. So there is no point in registering your songs with GEMA for this reason. Normally, she doesn't even listen to the songs. According to the idea of ​​copyright law, musical works are already protected at the moment of creation. The copyright protection begins exactly when you are rehearsing the chords with the band for the first time or when you are just writing the lyrics.

All just stolen?

In practice, the problem is therefore completely different. If someone actually stole your composition, you have to be able to prove that you were the first to compose or text the song. If you succeed, it is clear that the other person can only have copied the title from you. Because it is very unlikely that the same work will be invented twice more or less identically by different composers independently of one another. Once you have made this clear to yourself, you can set out to collect the necessary evidence purely as a precautionary measure for the dispute.

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All just a question of evidence!

All sorts of evidence can be considered. So you can play the song to trustworthy people in your environment, for example your music teacher. You can also record the song and distribute self-made CDs of it. Ideally, those who hear the work or get the CD should be able to remember exactly what day it was for quite a while later. Then they can testify in court as a witness if necessary.

Another popular method is to put a CD with the recording, sheet music, or transcript of the text in an envelope, seal the letter, and mail the whole thing to yourself. But be careful! You must not open the letter under any circumstances! The postmark then shows that the song already existed on this date.

However, because it is always uncertain how much faith the judge will give a witness or a postmark on an envelope, the notes or CD can also be deposited with a lawyer or a notary. He then makes a note of when he received the piece. At least that should convince the judge. Since this method costs money, it is more for the professionals.

Work parts are also protected

That someone is so bold and steals an entire song and then claims that he wrote it all by himself is ultimately very rare in practice. The chances of getting away with this scam are pretty slim. More frequent and much more difficult to clarify are cases in which only a certain part, for example the crucial hookline or an original passage from the text, is taken over. Then it has to be clarified whether even a small excerpt from a musical work is protected by copyright.

In principle, the law actually assumes that parts of the work also enjoy legal protection. However, this does not always apply to everything. So that no one can take the stand that he is the owner of the rights to a scale or a banal "la-la-la" text, the requirements are even relatively strict. Anyone who “composed” something like this shouldn't be surprised if these elements can be found in other songs, as they can be used by everyone.

The difficulty lies precisely in the demarcation between banality and a catchy melody, which must not be too complicated so that everyone can sing along quickly. Unfortunately, there are no really objective criteria that could help you answer the question. It also doesn't depend on the length of the cutout, but on whether the part in question is sufficiently individual and stands out from the everyday. In individual cases, the experts can argue long and hard about this. Then musicological reports and counter-reports are commissioned, and it is questionable whether one is much smarter in the end. It is better and cheaper if you somehow come to terms with such situations. Then nothing stands in the way of the super hit!

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