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Topic: Legal question - unauthorized use of music

  1. #1

    Legal question - unauthorized use of music

    Okay, I have a "friend"... I know what you're thinking... Shazbot has a friend??

    A year ago this "friend" was auditioning his music for a company producing a new television program in Asia. Over the course of the audition, he produced several different themes and the final test was to score a 3 minute trailer. It was then communicated that my friend was the choice of the company to score the show, and it was a matter of agreeing on a salary.

    My friend then found out that the company had gone to a major European "show selling" conference and had used his music as part of the trailer for their presentation. He was a little concerned about that, since they hadn't yet agreed on any salary and he had not given permission for the music to be used for anything other than for the job audition. But since he had word that he was their guy, he didn't sweat it at the time.

    However, a few months passed and he had no word from his contact there. He contacted someone else at the company (let's call him Guy B), who told him that the other guy (Guy A) had been fired for embezzling and they had reformed a new company without Guy A. The show hadn't been picked up last year, but they were going to be resubmitting it again and would be in touch with him with any news. He just found out recently (several months later) from news reports online that the show was again promoted at the conference and now has a distributor. He also found a new website for one of the peripheral companies that is involved with the show, and it even had a piece of the trailer, the same trailer with his music. He then contacted the person he had been in touch with more recently (Guy B), to ask what was going on, and Guy B says that they now have an in-house composer doing the job he had been promised for the show which is now in pre-production.

    Okay, so the job thing is what the friend would prefer, but apparently that's not happening, but he is more concerned that they've used his music to promote this show, at least twice now, and currently on an active website, and he's received nothing for it, as well as no job.

    He wants to know, should he be inclined to bill the company (which he is), what would be fair? By the hour of the time he spent on it, or by the amount of time of the actual music? Is there licensing that comes into play for something that is used in a promotional sense?

    No contracts were signed or final agreements made as far as salary, which my friend realizes works against him as far as the job goes, but should work
    for him as far as the fact that he never authorized use of the music. In fact, in one of the earlier contacts from Guy A, Guy A mentioned that he had put together my friend's theme on a rough demo of the trailer and apologized because he knew they hadn't asked permission to do so, though he figured it would be okay because it wasn't for public use. Well, wouldn't these conferences and certainly the website be considered public use, or at least professional use, for which people would typically be paid?

    Anyway, I'd appreciate any feedback about this situation, so I can pass it on to my friend.

    - Cool Tunes for Kids -

  2. #2
    Senior Member Richard Berg's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Chapel Hill, NC

    Re: Legal question - unauthorized use of music


    What to bill a company for services they tried to rip off? That question has more to do with "playing poker" than the law. How much you think the composition is worth doesn't mean squat. You have to get inside Guy B's head and reason out how much he'd be willing to pay to avoid a lawsuit.

    If it does go to court, the only $ figure that matters is damages. Since there is no contract, you'd be looking for damages in tort (which might include, among other things, your regular hourly rate) + statutory damages. In the U.S., statutory damages for copyright infringement are enormous: up to $150,000 per work if you can show willful infringement. So once again, the $ sums you were asking about don't really matter by comparison.

  3. #3

    Re: Legal question - unauthorized use of music

    I'll be shocked if they pay him anything (though they should).

    My strategy would be to bill them low enough where I might actually GET IT.


  4. #4

    Re: Legal question - unauthorized use of music

    Quote Originally Posted by johnmarkpainter
    I'll be shocked if they pay him anything (though they should).

    My strategy would be to bill them low enough where I might actually GET IT.

    I disagree. Selling yourself short is not usually a good idea, especially not in this case.

    This company is infringing on your friend's legal rights. Why should they get any slack at all?
    Dan Powers

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  5. #5
    Senior Member caher's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2006

    Re: Legal question - unauthorized use of music


    Your friend needs to work with a lawyer specializing in intellectual property in the international arena. This isn't a DIY type of thing. My sister (an illistrator) went through a similar situation. It took a few years but she ended up with a very good settlement from a publisher who used some of her illustrations without authorization.


  6. #6

    Re: Legal question - unauthorized use of music


    There is no standard "scale" pay for submission of demo songs that are used for online promotion or for Pitching purposes.

    There is no contract and not even a verbal aggreement for compensation if he DID get the job.

    The company is in Asia.

  7. #7

    Re: Legal question - unauthorized use of music

    Ya, in this case you are hard pressed to come up with any enforceable legal claim. Suing and being awarded $150,000+ is a whole lot different than collecting $150,000+.

    For the time effort and money he'll spend in getting his due, he may be better off just writing more music and working to get that out/heard. I would spend some effort though to be sure that the music isn't further used by this company however. It already seems that they are not very picky about keeping their word or choosing their staff. I wouldn't put it past them to keep using this with out permission.

    I would send them a bill based on a "per finished minute" fee and let it go. They may just pay it because of other sloppy practices. Be smart. Don't send it to "Guy B". Send it to their AP dept.

    If they continue to use it afterward, then send them a contract of your own design that will cover licensing for say, the next 36 months with renewal options for you (not for them.. so you can negotiate a higher fee for music that is now married to the show) as well as another invoice, this time for 25% more/minute along with a firm letter stating that continued use must be contracted. Offer them the option of buying the piece outright as well for 10 times the now inflated price. It might not get anywhere, but hey, it couldn't hurt.

    Worst case scenario is that you (er..., your friend) may be able to write off the originally invoiced fees as a business loss at tax time.
    Experience what is necessary to build upon self character, for that is Life's most significant learning event.

  8. #8

    Lightbulb Re: Legal question - unauthorized use of music

    Quote Originally Posted by Shazbot
    Okay, I have a "friend"... I know what you're thinking... Shazbot has a friend??

    A year ago this "friend" was auditioning his music for a company producing a new television program in Asia. ***
    Probably the most critical information there is the part that says "in Asia". Most countries do enforce the international copyright treaty (and you are talking about copyright infringement here), but getting the case through court, and getting a satisfactory outcome, varies widely from country to country.

    This is definitely not DIY, and that includes any further communication with the TV producer. Your friend should contact one of the larger IP firms (there are several that have branch offices in Asia), and all future communications should go through his attorney. If the producer has any presence in the US, it may be possible to obtain jurisdiction over him/it here.

    Best of luck!

    Grant Green ||| www.contrabass.com
    Sarrusophones and other seismic devices

  9. #9

    Re: Legal question - unauthorized use of music


    Good luck with this, hope it plays out alright-- amazing how people just think they can take advantage of others sometimes! i really hope u receive what u deserve for your efforts/product--

  10. #10
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Talking Re: Legal question - unauthorized use of music

    Shaz, the boys are ready to help negotiate.

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