Saturday, March 15, 2008

Basic VJ copyright

video by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Doctors and other medical professionals in the Beaumont area gather to relieve stress by playing rock music in a studio above a three-car garage (3CG). The 3CG band performs a jam session of blues.

Music has three copyrights. They are: the composer, the performer and the production company. For music videos, the VJ holds the fourth copyright, but is subject to the first three.

As new VJs ask around, they might hear about the "20-second rule." There is no such rule for individuals or businesses (including newspapers). I won't say what it equates to in the real world, but we'll say a lot of folks get babies by applying a similar fictitious rule.

IF - and only IF - a radio or TV station has all the proper ASCAP record-keeping and payment processes in place, they can use 20 seconds (or more). Since ASCAP licenses are outrageously expensive, don't expect a newspaper to pay the bill. Even if they do, it only applies to the newspaper's Web site - not to a VJ's personal site or blog.

To play music, show a theater performance or even a specific choreography routine, it must be original and a VJ needs the composer's AND performer's permission (preferably on tape).

Then, the VJ becomes the de facto production company (if sound is live) and also retains the shooting copyright.

When a band only performs covers of other people's work*, VJs can ask the band to play "Blues in B." Almost any band can play this. It's the standard jam-session song. It doesn't step on any copyright and actually lets the performers shine.

This isn't foolproof because one of the players could start playing something from another band, but it's the best we can do without taking years of music lessons and law courses.

* If the performers cover Bach, you're OK. We're talking about contemporary pieces from the last 70 years.

Background sound
If music is playing in the background at an event, I've read it isn't a problem to record natural sound while covering news (this might be the infamous 20-second rule). This applies to situations such as festivals and other events where VJs have no control over the sound system.

However, adding music after-the-fact as background is still forbidden unless the VJ has appropriate licences.

Enough for now,


Ken said...


We are not doing anything with sound yet, so I don't know. What are the ethical rules about:
"VJs can ask the band to play "Blues in B.""

Can you do that? That would - as I'm thinking about it - be like asking if a person would do something specific for a photo. Once you ask a person or a group to do something, don't you move from observer to director?

Again, The rules for audio may be necessarily different than straight pj work. I am just wondering.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Valid question. Everything in entertainment is a little squishy. This is why I prefer hard news.
I'm not asking them to "do" anything. I asked if they have original songs.
It's a question. Like, "What's your name?" We're journalists. Asking questions is our job.
Their answer was no. So, I explained that I can only record a jam session. They happened to call it "Blues in B" and my boss, who is also in a band, agreed it's a universal jam-session song. It's different each time it's played.
Hence my advice.
I feel no ethics were breached. I didn't ask them to do anything they weren't already doing (band practice). I didn't ask them to stand anywhere or any other no-nos.
I shot stills and video for more than an hour. This was the only song I used for the Web. The clips between the "live" clips are while they're playing other (cover) songs.
I recently shot some singers who only do covers. I asked if they did anything original. The answer was no. So, I only shot stills.
Should I leave without anything because I asked if they did anything original? I don't think so.

Ken said...


Mark M. Hancock said...

I wish the answer could be simpler. I would prefer to record whatever they're actually playing. Unfortunately, copyright trumps everything. If we don't have the right to use the music, we can't.
The next best option is an original song by the band. If that doesn't exist, the only remaining option is a jam session. Since I'm not a trained musician, I wouldn't recognize "Blues in B" if I didn't ask.