Why musicians should research their market

Musicians face a tricky legal environment when it comes to copyright law. The legal line between inspiration and plagiarism is a blurry one, something recent suits involving Australian artists can attest to. What should musicians do to protect themselves and their creations?

When it comes to musical compositions, copyright law can be a difficult thing to navigate. The line between inspiration and plagiarism can be blurry, and often the dispute between the two parties has to be settled in court. A complaint of this kind came up in Australia last month, involving several high-profile names. What can aspiring and practicing musicians alike learn from these events?

Taking on the mighty

You're probably familiar with the band 'Thirsty Merc', but you may not be aware that one of its former members, Sean Carey, is now a songwriter for other artists. He, along with keyboardist Beau Golden, wrote a song for Australian country singer Jasmine Rae called 'When I Found You'. It was a hit on country radio in Australia, becoming the station's most played song that year. 

Fast forward to the second half of 2017; Tim McGraw and Faith Hill release their song 'The Rest Of Our Life' – a number co-written by Ed Sheeran. It's not until that December where, upon receiving a tweet from a fan asking about the similarities, the litigation process began. Richard Busch, the lawyer for Beau and Golden, alleges that the song engages "in many instances, verbatim, note-for-note copying of important and original elements".

What should a musician do?

Under Australian copyright law, using music composed by someone else without giving due credit is an offence. If you have the copyright for a track, someone else wishing to use it will need to obtain a license from you to do so.

The main issue is that regardless of the outcome of the legal case, both sides will face hefty legal bills for pushing their case in Federal Court. For commercially successful musicians like them, an outcome of this kind wouldn't be financially crippling, but for a smaller artist, a similar situation could be.

Protecting yourself from costly litigation is a must for aspiring artists. It's impossible to listen to every piece of music ever recorded to check whether yours sounds similar, so it's a good idea to talk to a copyright lawyer before you release any music. That way, if something does crop up, you can be ready to defend your work at the drop of a hat.

Alder IP are experts in Australian and international copyright law. For more on how we can help you navigate its tricky waters, contact a member of the team today