Copyright, right?


Copyright is an interesting subject, particularly when studying at a financial institution with every intention of building a portfolio to build a business outside of SAE. Legally, I can’t use a lot of the ‘work’ I’m doing at SAE as a part of my portfolio because I’m mixing stems of songs I haven’t played, played by bands that I haven’t recorded. Alternatively, this trimester we’ve remixed songs (admittedly with permission from writers/bands but also sampled and ‘Simpled’ the tracks using Ableton Live. Our Jingle projects have used advertisements from some pretty major companies, and we’re operating on the premise that because we’re students and it’s being used for education, we’re exempt from copyright law – is this really the case? Overall, these exercises are to help us work on original projects outside of SAE, where copyright law applies but because we’re creating (hopefully) original work, we’re within the blurred guidelines. I’ll start with discussing my Sound-Alike project, Hoops, which won the Triple J Hottest 100 competition in 2015.

A Sound-Alike is a term used to describe a sound or recording that purposely lends itself to sounding like another song or recording, without breaching copyright. This has come about because of the expense in licensing songs, as well as the ultimate discretion of the use of the recording being up to the owner of the copyright. SO where do we draw the line? If we draw the line at performance and recording, one could ‘play’ a song exactly as it was recorded and be free from copyright, because it’s physically impossible to recreate an exact performance, even with the same musicians in the same room with the same equipment, right? We also need to discuss why an advertiser (for argument’s sake) would choose one song over another, and this leads us to the emotion invoked from a song or recording. In this sense, if a Sound-Alike is employed to recreate an emotional cue in an audience, this is a much bigger grey area.
Belinda Willis discuss this issue in AdelaideNow, stating that “opting for a similar tune to evoke an emotional response may (sic) might breach copyright infringement” (Willis, 2014). Clearly a song is chosen for a reason, so shouldn’t the artists have some say in a recording that employees emotions and memories from their music be entitled to some royalties? Belinda sites Kelly & Co partner Peter Campbell, who discusses the emotional implications of a recording, in saying a Sound-Alike is “a balancing act” (Campbell, 2014) where sound-alike are used to borrow feelings or emotions invoked from a particular piece of music, too big a change can affect the way the audiences hears the sounds, and not enough change can land the sound-alike in breach of copyright. If all I’m discussing is true, then our ‘Sound-Alikes’ aren’t really Sound-Alikes at all. They’re exercises in critically listening to and analysing a professional recording, as well as being a part of a recording with real deadlines and artists. While we’ve discussed there’s no direct profit from the projects per say, but what if a potential employer hears my work at SAE, which features copyrighted material, and seeks to source some of my original work? Arguably, I’ve used copyrighted material for personal gain, and although it would be difficult for the Rubens to claim royalties based on my personal gain, it’s no more difficult than an artist making claims on a Sound-Alike.
The grey areas extended even further when we started our unit on Electronic Music that closed with an EMP Remix created in Ableton Live. We learned about sampling, but we also learned about sampling to create entirely new sounds using the Simpler plugin. Arguably, the sounds can become completely unrecognisable so hypothetically there should be no copyright issue if we don’t tell anyone. If the sounds are manipulated beyond recognition, there’s no emotional connection or relation to the original track. Arguably, we’re using some frequency information to create a synthesised sound, so all the artist can claim is that originally, the sounds were created were created using a part of a recording of theirs despite there being no resemblance or reference to their art (which isn’t out of the question in the current financial state of the music industry, they’ve got bills to pay too).  I used stems from a song recorded by a friend, and had full permission to do so, however I also sampled some sounds from, assuming the recordings on FreeSound are completely original and free from copyright. In this sense, am I completely free to use synths created in Ableton? Multiple forums discuss this and the conversation goes in circles. Arguably, VSTs and plugins also emulate a piece of hardware to invoke an emotional response in the user, so would this be covered by the same copyright as Sound-Alikes? Are they covered at all. I’ve investigated EzDrummer sounds, a program I use to create MIDI drums for demos and to sample drums sound to re-enforce acoustic recordings. When you purchase a copy of EZDrummer, you also purchase the license to make recording with the samples built in to the program.
A concept that comes up a lot is the idea of ‘fair use’ (legally called ‘Fair Dealing’ in Australia), which proposes to allow creatives to use certain material in certain circumstances, mostly to “… to allow uses that we all agree are socially beneficial.” (‘Jess’, 2016) and usually without financial gain. We could argue that our work at SAE is covered under Fair Dealing, because we’re using it for educational purposes, or research or study. Arguably, our jingle projects could be ‘satire or parody’ because of the comical way some of us have changed the soundtracks and audio to the advertisements or clips we’ve submitted for the assignment. All of these are covered under the Fair Dealing policy, however it’s still a big grey area. It’s a big call to abolish the idea of Fair Dealing, but potentially a bigger deal to allow it completely. I used completely original recordings made in my garage or bedroom, besides a ‘drip’ sound made with the ProTools MinGrand VST.
In conclusion, a lot of copyright can be risky, detrimental to the original artist/s and can land you in a lot of trouble. It’s important to stay respectful and aware that original artists who produce recordings are producing them for the same reason you’re sampling or imitating (in the case of a Sound-Alike), and that Fair Dealing isn’t a complete security blanket that covers everything. For argument’s sake, we should assume it covers nothing, and act in ways we see as honest and without risk of breaching the law. A lot of our work at SAE would breach copyright in the real world, but as long as we’re not using it for direct financial gain, we’re covered. Instead, we should take the things we’ve learned at SAE and apply them to real-world projects where we’re creating work from scratch with artists. We’re safest to use samples we’ve created ourselves, but if we need to use an external sample, to make sure we know who made it and that it’s free from any risk. Understanding copyright is as much about understanding the holes in it than the laws themselves, as it’s all a little unclear.
Fair Use Week: Why do we want fair use in Australia? | Australian Digital Alliance. (2016). Retrieved 23 August 2016, from
Willis, B. (2014). Legal challenges grow as more advertisements use sound-alike songs. AdelaideNow. Retrieved 23 August 2016, from

One thought on “Copyright, right?

  1. Some interesting thoughts here, but also a few gaps in what you’ve outlined.
    Remember that a soundalike still needs to credited correctly regarding songwriting credits and mechanical royalties are payable if the recording is to be released.
    A remix will also need some copyright negotiation between the remixer and original artist which will need some thought given to ownership of the sound recording and potentially a songwriting split.
    And remember that sounds downloaded from are not copyright-free. They are all made available under Creative Commons licenses so you will need to check what conditions have been attached to their use.


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