The music industry faces a shortage of copyright infringement insurance, said attorney Derek C. Crownover, partner at the Nashville, Tenn., office of the law firm of Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover. Most of his clients are self-insured. They also face issues when it comes to enforcing the laws aimed at violators. This problem, however, could pale in comparison with risks posed by new file-sharing technologies.
When one country song is discovered to be suspiciously similar to another, said Crownover, musicians and songwriters have few options, mainly because that second song must be a drastically similar reproduction--not just a wail borrowing the familiar themes of pickup trucks, beer and ex-spouses.
"You can't copyright an idea," Crownover said.
The aggrieved parties could bring the two songs to a musicologist, someone trained in detecting similarities in songs.
But musicologists do not come cheap. They can cost upward of $15,000, enough to dissuade many writers and artists from pursuing the case.
When it comes to sampling--say, when rap stars splice parts of other artists' songs into their work--there is precedence, however, for litigants to go on, said Crownover.
Crownover pointed to the recent so-called Bridgeport litigation. The owners of the music of funk artists Parliament-Funkadelic, Bridgeport Music Inc., sued enough defendants for sampling violations to fill 10 pages "separated only by commas," said Crownover.
Sampling is still a huge issue in the music industry today, said Crownover. But hip-hop producers are becoming more sophisticated at altering the borrowed music just enough to be legal and at asking permission from the original writers, said Crownover.
File-sharing will also continue to strike a discord for the music industry, said Karl M. Braun, a colleague and partner at Hall, Booth, whose clients have sold more than 50 million records.
The industry doesn't have the technology skills, Braun said, to actually put a halt to it.
"They're trying to convert to the tech side," said Derek, "but they're way behind."
As a result, brick-and-mortar music stores could be singing a swan song in five years, the attorneys predicted, speaking at an industry event this fall in Nashville.
October 15, 2006
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