Monday, December 23, 2013

Pop Robbery: What to do if you get robbed.

It happens a lot: Pop hop stealing beats from indie artists. Portland, OR based Indie hip hop news source, We Out Here Magazine, recently broke a story about a Portland artist who may have gotten robbed.

Rumor has it that there was "controversy surrounding the new Rick Ross x Jay Z track Devil Is A Lie where KE On A Track has been accused of stealing the beat from Major Seven. Well the story gets murkier and took a turn into Portland when Complex writer Edwin Ortiz traced the beat to new rapper Manny Monday’s October single, OG Shit, which he had reported as produced by Lex Luger" (We Out Here Magazine, Dec. 20, 2013).

Photo courtesy of We Out Here Mag
Often, indie artists feel like their hands are tied when they get violated by pop artists but pop artists are subject to the same laws everyone else is subject to. If a copyright is infringed upon, it's up to the artist to hold the thief accountable or not.

First of all, what's a copyright?
In short, a copyright is the right of an artist to make money off of copies of their art. If you have a copyright and somebody else is making money off your shit without your permission, they have violated your copyright.

Once you fix your work into a tangible medium, you technically own a copyright. So if you type your lyrics on a computer, you have a copyright. If you save your beat in Pro Tools, Fruityloops, Audacity, Garage Band, or any other mixing software, you have a copyright. If you create a video of yourself performing your song, you have a copyright. If you print the lyrics to your song on a T-shirt, you have a copyright. Even if you write a status on Facebook you own a copyright to that status.* Most of these electronic media have time stamps associated with whatever is saved or posted, so this can help to determine when the piece was created.

HOWEVER: if you perform your song live and it is NOT recorded, YOU DO NOT HAVE A COPYRIGHT. That means that if you sing your song at an open mic and somebody goes home and records it, THEY can claim the copyright.

Based on the example of OG Shit, it is alleged that the single Devil Is a Lie violated somebody's copyright. If this ever happens to you, you have rights that you can enforce if you choose to.

1. As a precursor to all of it, make sure you own your copyright. If you signed your copyright or your masters away to somebody else, like a label, you're probably not gonna have a leg to stand on. So don't give away the rights to your shit.

2. Register your copyright with the US Copyright Office. If you find the process confusing, Youtube instruction videos can help. If you register your copyright within the FIRST 3 MONTHS of having fixed your beat or your song in a tangible medium, then you might be able to get statutory damages. That means court costs, lawyer fees and shit like that. If you don't register your copyright within the first 3 months of creating your work, you may still get damages based on what was profited, but this is harder to prove.

The Poor Man's Copyright, you know, mailing a copy of your EP or lyrics to yourself, may help establish when a piece was made, but if you want to take someone to court for real, you have to register your copyright with the Copyright Office. Show a judge an envelope with your shit in it and you will be clowned in court.

3. Get a lawyer. If it's some round the way hood shit, you may be able to just go to a civil court, show your copyright registration and get damages. But if you're going up against pop industry folks, you don't wanna be alone. You can contact your regional arts commission or your local Recording Academy chapter. These folks are artist advocates and can lead you in a direction toward success. You can also file a complaint with the FBI's cyber division. If this all sounds like some mafia gangster type shit, that's because it is.

Another option is to make more music and keep it moving, but that's that illuminati shit.


*There was some controversy recently about whether or not a person can relinquish the copyright to their original work to Facebook if they post it, but this is not the case. When posting something to Facebook, you give them a license, to make money with your shit and use it however they want to on their site, but you still own the copyright.

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