Part 2: Copyright and Trademark Law for the Wedding Industry

What is a wedding without music? To me, not a wedding at all. Outside of the photography, the other important aspect for us was music. The negotiations that took place over our first dance song would rival those over nuclear weapons. There were lists submitted, responses requested and terms outlined. To say we are a couple opinionated about music would be an understatement.

Unfortunately, in the wedding industry music is often misused and puts the user at risk for copyright infringement. Recently, I have seen it misused in two ways. The first, deals with the lyrics to the music DJs for the reception use. The second occurs after the wedding with the wedding photographers.

I think this must be a new trend, but a few weddings I have attended recently have the DJ projecting the words to the song he is playing onto a blank wall. Hopefully, if the wedding venue is one that is regularly used it already has proper public performance licensing in place, as I discussed in What is BMI, ASCAP or SESAC? Why Should I Bar/Gym/Event Care?  With the public performance piece in place, any person who wants to perform live music would be good to go. However, the licensing under the public performance organizations does not allow for a display of lyrics.

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to publicly display the work. Outside of the sound recording, the actual song you are hearing at the wedding, there is a separate copyright on the song being performed, which is the musical work copyright. The musical work copyright is essentially the sheet music – the words and the lyrics. When you combine the rights given to copyright owners under §106 of the Copyright Act (publicly display) with the musical work copyright, this indicates the DJ does not have the proper licensing in place to display the lyrics unless he has taken the time to do so. For venue owners, I would check with DJs before allowing them to setup a projector.

The second issue with music at weddings occurs after the wedding. Last week, I talked about how wedding photographers, thanks to these “Build Your Wedding Photography Business” workshops, have often decided to place limiting language in the agreement where the bride and groom do not receive the copyright in the photos the photographer takes. I even had one photographer tell me it was simply “industry standard” for him to keep the copyright in all of his photos. Ummmm, no thank you and next.

See more, Part 1: Copyright and Trademark Law for the Wedding Industry

As vigilant as wedding photographers are now being with their photos, you would think they would have a little more respect for copyrighted work. But, alas, they often do not when they link photos to a popular song unless there is proper licensing in place. In a very strict sense, linking photographs with a popular song is copyright infringement.  Having a song automatically start playing on your business’s website is also copyright infringement, even if you purchased the song.

The above statement is true even if you legally purchased the song.  This is true even if you are not charging people to view your slide show or website.  When you purchase the song, you are purchasing the song for your own individual enjoyment.  When you link to work you have been paid for, such as photography, then you are using the song in a commercial way.  As the songs play on your website to promote your work, you are also using someone else’s copyrighted material in a commercial way.  The owner of the songs is the holder of the exclusive rights related to the song.

The one exception that might exist is if the copyright owner of the music struck a deal with YouTube. You can now search YouTube’s audio file library to see if YouTube will allow you to place videos containing certain songs on the website without the video being removed. Certain song publishers reached agreements with YouTube to allow their music to remain on the site, provided YouTube then sends the publisher advertising dollars. It is the reason you are seeing more advertisements on YouTube.  Perhaps vimeo and others have reached certain deals with music owners.

Copyright laws related to music are tricky. Wedding photographers should take the time to license out the music they want to use on their website to be completely on the safe side. And, if you attended one of those “Build Your Wedding Photography Business” workshops and they tell you it is okay and you can “get away with it” since you are not charging money to view your website, then promptly ask for the money back you paid to attend the workshop. The leaders are simply wrong on this issue and who else knows what else they are wrong about.

What other instances have you seen of copyright and trademark violation in the wedding industry? Take part in the Comments section below and Stay Tuned In!

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