The anti-bootlegging statute, 17 U.S.C. § 1101, was enacted in 1994 to protect against unauthorized recording of live musical performances and trafficking of those unauthorized recordings. Yet, artists still see themselves and their performances in places they have not authorized. In 1994, YouTube did not exist. Video recording devices were not as small and light as they are in 2014. People can now record live events on their mobile devices. Consequently, individuals have a greater ability not only to make unlawful recordings, but also to distribute them via the internet. Are artists any safer now than they were in 1994? What measures can artists take to protect themselves and their brands?
Be vigilant. Artists and their management team must constantly search the internet for unauthorized postings. You can set up a Google news alert for your band’s name, images and content, which can help not only with monitoring what is being written about your group but also with discovering bootleg material. This constant surveillance is time consuming, but it is worth the effort if you discover unauthorized performances, recordings or images.
Take action. When artists find bootleg recordings and performances, they must decide what actions they will take. Doing nothing is always an option, though not a good one! The band can send a “takedown notice” to the owner of a web site. (To find the owner, try www.DomainTools.com or www.WhoIs.net.) Sometimes, however, people buy web sites anonymously. Anonymous web site owners present an extra challenge for the artist and the management team. You can also try to contact your internet service provider (i.e. Verizon, Comcast, etc.) about the infringing material. If you find copyrighted material on YouTube or Google itself, see the links in the yellow box at the end of this article. Copyright violations are rampant. Vigilance is key to protection.
To sue or not to sue. That is the question. If a takedown notice does not result in removal of the infringing material, the artist must decide whether or not to initiate a lawsuit in federal district court. Recently, Prince brought a $22 million suit against 22 people for posting copies of his live performances online. Reactions from his fans were mixed. Although Prince dropped his lawsuit, artists must wrestle with this important issue when bootlegging is discovered. This is a tough call. You want to protect your brand. You want to send a message to the infringers. Yet you do not want to alienate your fans. The artists and management must weigh the pros and cons of suing.
This is a guest legal column for Allegro. Nothing here should be construed as formal legal advice given in the context of an attorney-client relationship.
Did someone steal your song and put it on the internet?
- If your copyrighted material appears on a web page without your permission, start by contacting the owner of the site. Look at the bottom of the home page for clues about who owns the site. Or try www.DomainTools.com or www.WhoIs.net. Once you reach the owner, ask him or her to remove your copyrighted material.
- For YouTube, here is the link to its copyright resource site: www.YouTube.com/yt/copyright. Follow the instructions to request YouTube to take down any of your material that was posted without your permission.
- Here is a shortcut link to Google’s copyright resource site: www.bitly.com/google-copyright. Here you can report a copyright violation, and more.
- You can also try contacting your internet service provider (Verizon, Comcast, etc.) to report a copyright violation.
There is a larger issue of piracy, which concerns illegal pirate web sites. Corporate advertising on those sites appears to be helping to sustain piracy. Allegro covered this topic in a previous article. See www.bitly.com/advertising-funds-piracy.