The music industry is no stranger to copyright infringement cases. This is when a musical work is reproduced or distributed in any way without the permission of the copyright owner, who has exclusive legal rights to use it. A famous case of this is when Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were accused by the late Marvin Gaye’s estate of copying elements of Marvin Gaye’s song ‘Got To Give It Up’ in their song ‘Blurred Lines’. This led to a 5-year-long legal battle and Pharell and Thicke having to pay millions of dollars in damages. 

The results of this famous case and many others that occur on a daily basis help to demonstrate why having a general understanding of how the business side of music works (especially in terms of the contractual and copyright elements of the industry) is crucial for a successful career; given success for any creative is not solely attributed to having great creative ability here. To explore the importance of this in more detail (with specific reference to copyright), I interviewed my cousin, Ebony Reid to find out more. 

Ebony is currently a Senior Copyright Assistant at the UK branch of one of the largest global independent music publishers in the industry. Her role within the Copyright department is a very admin intensive one, tasking her with ensuring all client’s repertoire is correctly registered with the global collection societies, along with assisting in the resolution of any discrepancies concerning their works or royalties. Other examples from the multitude of responsibilities she has includes assistance with the clearance of print and sync licenses, as well as occasionally assisting with matters concerning contracts. 

She has a joint honours degree in Business Law with International Business and says that this has aided her in her music-related work as she tried to integrate music into her modules, such as by choosing to learn about Intellectual Property (IP). 

When asked how important it is for artists to know about copyrights and contracts, Ebony states she believes “It is vital that artists and all those aspiring to have careers in the music industry understand the general framework of copyright, as it can be an absolute game-changer for their careers and allow them to make smarter, more informed choices, that will greatly benefit them down the road.” 

Not having this basic understanding can have serious impacts on one’s career at any stage, since people will be prone to making the same mistakes over and over again if they do not make efforts to learn more about the business aspects of their creative opportunities. That being said, she believes some of the most common and biggest mistakes people can make are not ensuring that they have completely understood the terms and obligations of their contracts before signing, as well as not having a trusted legal representative by their side when making major deals. 

These mistakes are arguably more important to avoid with the rise of social media, especially in regards to the popular social media apps TikTok and Instagram, where music is frequently used in video posts. These apps and frequent infringing uses of artists songs have made it increasingly important for music creatives and their respective labels or publishers to consider and work to combat the effects of these uses without undermining the positive, promotional attributes from their music being used on these platforms. Ebony feels that social media apps such as TikTok have definitely impacted the industry due to the inability to track and collect any income for these unlicensed uses of music over a long period of time, which subsequently has infringed on the rights of the copyright owners (those being composers, writers, publishers and other creatives). She further states that given these widespread unlicensed uses and inability to track and collect income, these apps have consequently forced the industry to play catch up with these new social media apps and technologies and ensure they are licensed in the future. 

In conclusion, although creative skill sets are greatly important for artists to have in the music industry, it is wise for those looking to begin a career in this industry to gain an understanding of its inner-workings from a business and legal viewpoint. Ebony is of the opinion that “the most important thing an artist can do for themself and their career is to put together a strong and capable team to help ensure their business and admin needs are met, thus freeing them up to focus on their creative projects.” She does however stress that it is also vital that artists always ensure that they themselves are well versed on the general business and legal frameworks of the industry, as this will allow them to make great business choices and avoid the frequently experienced pitfalls many face in the industry. 

Ebony is now planning to launch her own venture by the name of ‘You Got This Music’, which she hopes will serve as an online resource for creatives and professionals who want to get into the industry, helping them gain a deeper understanding of the business side of music and aid in furthering their careers in a way that benefits them most. As the industry continues to grow and evolve, we should hope that more creatives prepare themselves with the appropriate business and legal knowledge to avoid their appearances in the next future high profile infringement battles. It's time to get down to business.