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Old December 9th, 2004, 11:07 AM   #1
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Copyright question concerning product noises

I know there is tons and tons of stuff on copyright information, so much to the point that I am having trouble finding information on the questions I have. So here goes....

Is there a copyright issue if you use sounds in your movie - sounds such as:

the "you got mail" - the AOL sound when you get mail.

Or... the Microsoft sound when you turn on your computer, or, for that matter, the sound an Apple computer makes when you turn it on.

Also, different ring-tones that cellphones make when a call comes in.

Since these sounds are produced by commercial items, would their sounds be in need of a copyright if part of your movie? Or would this be considered "incidental noise"?
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Old December 9th, 2004, 11:17 AM   #2
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Yes, they are.

These are part of the company's recognizable identity.
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Old December 9th, 2004, 11:38 AM   #3
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So, if those sounds were to be part of my film, I would need to obtain rights in order to use them?

And, to make my question even more complicated - my cellphone plays an excerpt from Vivaldi's - "Spring". While Vivaldi has been dead for over 75 years (is that the number of years when it is considered "public domain"?) the arrangement isn't. And what about all the newer songs you can hear on cellphones (U2, Maddona, etc.).

This can get rather complicated and technical... so my question is, just far does one have to take this... legally speaking and all? This could get very messy! And it isn't like I'm the next Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarrentino :) and will be having my film played in nationwide theaters. I know, I know... legal stuff, etc.
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Old December 9th, 2004, 11:53 AM   #4
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Linda,

Specific recordings of Public Realm music is copyrighted by the performers. Thus, The London Symphony's recording of a Motzart piece is copywritten by the symphony. Likewise the Specific ring tones generated by other equipment. Madonnna, et al licensed their music to the tone companies, you would have to also license the music.

Sounds of machines can be TRADEMARKED, but not copywritten. So can shapes (Coca-cola's distinctive bottle design). "You've got mail" is likely trademarked, not copywritten. Ditto the sounds of Windows start up, and "Intel" logos.

Legally speaking, yes this could get very sticky. You are betting that you will achieve absolutely no recognition and no commercial success on your project, by not seeking proper clearance.

Is that any way to go about creating something? Betting that no one will see it?

Having said that, sometimes rights can be cleared for little money, but LOTS OF EFFORT. Also, you have the right to make a "realistic" film... Automobiles and products that appear in the real world need not be blanked out, as long as the scene doesn't focus on them, especially in a defamatory manner. Such is the professional world.

Good luck.
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Old December 9th, 2004, 12:40 PM   #5
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Linda the compositions from long dead composers are public domain, you just have to reproduce the performances yourself (or clear the performance rights). So in the case of a ring tone, you can do this using MIDI or by asking a musician friend to tiddle it out on a keyboard.
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Old December 9th, 2004, 01:29 PM   #6
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Thanks Keith...

Believe me, I'm a stickler for the rules. I see copyright issue ALL THE TIME in TriggerStreet. And I do know that I can use Mozart's music in one of my films... but only his music. I must pay for the arrangement, whether or not I purchase copyrights or hire a musician to do the arrangement.

And I'm not trying to use the excuse that "nobody will ever see this film". What I'm saying is this - just many "i"s and "t"s are we looking at here?

Sheesh... no wonder the big movie giants... Spielberg, Scorsese, etc. No wonder they get paid so much. Having to figure out all that stuff and all... :)
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Old December 9th, 2004, 01:40 PM   #7
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Nah, they don't do that, there's a team of IP lawyers and E&0 lawyers that get paid to do that.
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Old December 13th, 2004, 12:32 PM   #8
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Re: Copyright question concerning product noises

Quote:
Originally posted by Linda Schodowsky : I know there is tons and tons of stuff on copyright information, so much to the point that I am having trouble finding information on the questions I have. So here goes....

Is there a copyright issue if you use sounds in your movie - sounds such as:

the "you got mail" - the AOL sound when you get mail.

Or... the Microsoft sound when you turn on your computer, or, for that matter, the sound an Apple computer makes when you turn it on.

Also, different ring-tones that cellphones make when a call comes in.

Since these sounds are produced by commercial items, would their sounds be in need of a copyright if part of your movie? Or would this be considered "incidental noise"?
There are a couple of concerns. First, all of the examples you've mentioned can be works of authorship subject to copyright protection. Including them in your project would violate the reserved right to make copies, right to prepare derivative works and the distribution. Note, however, that, as with any unauthorized copy, the defense of fair use might apply, depending on the circumstances of your project.

Next, sounds can be protected as trademarks (and don't need to be registered for trademark protection to accrue). Use of such a sound, as with any trademark, raises the possibility of trademark infringement and dilution. Mere use of a trademark doesn't necessarily result in liabilty -- again, it is extremely fact specific and, of course, there are fair use defenses available.

Quote:
Specific recordings of Public Realm music is copyrighted by the performers. Thus, The London Symphony's recording of a Motzart piece is copywritten by the symphony.
That's not quite right. The arrangement of the Mozart piece will almost certainly be protected by copyright. A separate copyright exists in the recording. The London Symphony probably owns rights in the latter, but not the former.

Quote:
Sounds of machines can be TRADEMARKED, but not copywritten. So can shapes (Coca-cola's distinctive bottle design). "You've got mail" is likely trademarked, not copywritten. Ditto the sounds of Windows start up, and "Intel" logos.
The recording of sounds of machines can be protected by copyright. Accordingly, though the words "you've got mail" are insufficient to constitute a protectable work of authorship for copyright purposes, the recording that AOL uses would be protectable. As you've noted, it is subject to trademark protection (trademark is a noun, not a verb -- trademark protection accrues from use in commerce). The start up sounds of the various Windows operating systems are, without question, protectable works of authorship.

Quote:
Linda the compositions from long dead composers are public domain, you just have to reproduce the performances yourself (or clear the performance rights). So in the case of a ring tone, you can do this using MIDI or by asking a musician friend to tiddle it out on a keyboard.
Right -- this is a good source of royalty-free music. If you can find public domain sheet music for (and it does exist), there are programs that can accept a scan of it and convert it to MIDI.

Note (no pun intended) that MIDI files are protectable works of expression, so merely finding someone else's MIDI file for a public domain work will still pose the potential for infringement liability.
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