A legal matter, baby - hypothetically speaking...

January 22, 2010 8:54 AM

One or two regulars will know I recently uploaded a "reimagination" of Bowie's "Space Oddity". I legitimately downloaded the multitrack and had a whale of a time. It's not a remix and it's not using samples in the conventional sense - it's.....a new recording. Since then I've been idly musing on what would happen if something like that was actually commercially released - I mean, who owns the recording......?

It's not as straightforward as it may seem. Bowie owns the song - check. He sings lead vocal - check. But production, arrangement and performance of (almost) all other contributions to the track are by yours truly. So.....I get points for all that. But who's recording is it - mine, his, EMI's or all three?? This isn't really a serious question - it just intrigues me. I probably need to get out more - huh?
posted by MajorDundee (15 comments total)

As far as I understand it (though your copywrong laws may be different across the pond), you would need to get clearance from Bowie and/or EMI, depending on who owns those parts you took--otherwise, you risk pulling a Vanilla Ice.
posted by askmeaboutLOOM at 9:16 AM on January 22, 2010

It may be more straightforward than you think. Especially with it being Bowie's lead vocal.
Remember The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony?
New song, new recording, new lyrics written by the Verve. It featured a looped strings sample from an instrumental Andrew Loog Oldham cover version of the Stones' song "The Last Time" and they got sued big time with the copyright going to Allen Klein's ABKCO and the songwriting credit (and 100% of the money) going to Jagger/Richards.
I guess it depends on the voraciousness of the lawyers in question.
posted by chococat at 9:26 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah yes - but he made the multitrack available and I bought a copy of it. So that copy is mine. And therefore I am free to do as I wish with it. I'm not certain that it's as simple as when samples are being used - where someone has lifted something from a record. This is different. The fact that they released the multitrack creates, in my humple op, an interesting (if admittedly pedantic) legal question. Let's await the views of The World Famous who, I seem to recall, is a lawyer in his spare time (heh).
posted by MajorDundee at 9:26 AM on January 22, 2010

Ah, right. I'm really surprised there wasn't some sort of agreement or fine print about ownership that you had to agree to when you bought the stem track.
posted by chococat at 9:30 AM on January 22, 2010

Is there a license that came with the multitrack? My guess is that it allows you to make new recordings & maybe distribute it, but not to make a profit.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:30 AM on January 22, 2010

I guess another wrinkle on this is that if I simply did a remix from the multitrack (that I own) and create a new stereo master - even if the multitrack's not legally mine surely the stereo master is. It would be my creative work to make that "version" - not Bowie's, not EMI's. Oh what jolly japes....!
posted by MajorDundee at 9:32 AM on January 22, 2010

Here a link to where I got it from guys - perfectly legit and it is on Amazon USA (I checked).
posted by MajorDundee at 9:35 AM on January 22, 2010

Okay, but from their standpoint all you really "own" is a recording of his vocals for playing his little remixing game. You don't get any publishing or licensing or copyright or any of that. I imagine they'd say, "sure, 'own it' all you want, in the comfort of your own headphones"...but as soon as you try to sell it I think they'd show you pretty quick who owns it.
posted by chococat at 9:53 AM on January 22, 2010

And another link. This one positively invites people to go to town and doesn't - on admittedly cursory perusal - carry any legal warnings. Perhaps Bowie's made enough cash and just doesn't give a flying fuck....
posted by MajorDundee at 9:56 AM on January 22, 2010

Choco - I have no intention of selling it. I'm sure you're right that I'd have m'learned friends on my tail if I did. As I said, I'm just musing on the implications....
posted by MajorDundee at 9:58 AM on January 22, 2010

Oh, I know you don't. I'm just devilling the advocat, as it were.
And yes, it's interesting indeed. I think it's not a real concern for them and so many others that are doing this sort of thing now; they get to give the consumer a feeling of secret access to the forbidden land of isolated tracks but if anybody ever releases anything with any of the material on it it would be pretty easy to prove.
And I think that the issue of ownership is sort of moot; it's more about intent. It's like, who owns the cassette tape you recorded his song onto. His song your tape. But ya, try to sell it...
posted by chococat at 10:11 AM on January 22, 2010

At the risk of becoming a bit of a rant, this is exactly what's wrong with copyright laws nowadays -- no clear guidelines by which you will know what to do (and who to pay) when you repurpose content.

However, this is not legal advice and I'm not a lawyer (thank Science), I think you can treat it as though it were a cover version/remix and just pay the standard royalty for that. I did it for my last album (a New Order cover) and the charge per 1000 discs (and the cost of settling my conscience on the matter) was around $100. If nothing else, I'm sure that by doing so you would have done some level of CYA on the matter for making an effort.
posted by chimaera at 11:58 AM on January 22, 2010

I'm not a lawyer either although I work in a statutory field and with lawyers pretty frequently.

There's just something dodgy about this whole thing - as you rightly point out chimaera. There is a suggestion of culpability on the part of the label i.e. "you voluntarily and without compulsion made the multitrack publicly available and explicity invited people to 'remix' the material - in doing so you knowingly created the potential for the material to be 'abused'. If that does occur - well, you asked for it." In a way it's akin to a Coca-Cola releasing the secret recipe (but saying that it's strictly for people to make at home) and then getting all pissy about rivals suddenly producing the same drink. It is - as we say over here - a bag of bollocks and defies common sense.

Having said that, the facts in a court case on this would probably revolve around the principle that ignorance of the law is no defence. It is not a matter for the record label to attach detailed "health warnings" to their releases. It is enough to state who owns the copyright in the material. In this case - as with all releases - that is precisely the situation. So.......commercial use of this material would result in getting well and truly fucked over in court. I should imagine though that the peculiar circumstances would be a mitigating factor - probably reducing the fine by some measure.
posted by MajorDundee at 2:49 PM on January 22, 2010

Sorry to go on but there is another twist here. What would happen if someone did a remix and bunged it on a website for free and it was downloaded by other people for no payment? Crikey!! Where are my brown trousers........
posted by MajorDundee at 2:53 PM on January 22, 2010

I think you are over-complicating it. All you bought was a copy of a recording and the right to play those recordings on your hi-fi / computer . Much like when you buy a normal song.

The format that the song was relased in, in this case, is just quite different to the usual Stereo Track.
ie imagine a world where say all music was released in a multi-track format and stereos allowed you to turn down / mute parts. ie CDs were multi-tracks. you are still just buying the right to play the CD.

if you used Bowies Vocal recording then you can't distribute it without the recording owners consent.
posted by mary8nne at 4:00 AM on January 25, 2010

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