Intellectual property attorney and musician Rich Stim answers questions about copyright, trademark, the public domain and other IP issues for artists and creatives.
Dear Rich: Using MIDI Music from a Video Game Cartridge
Dear Rich: I want to know if it is considered sampling when you record sound coming from a synthesizer that is playing electronic note data stored on a memory chip. Technically when you play an NES game (’80s video game system), the music that is playing is not pre-recorded. It is actually played “live” from musical note data on the game cartridge (gameplay triggers a MIDI pattern) in the console into the internal synthesizer.Read More
Dear Rich: Should I Submit Fabric Designs to Vida?
Dear Rich: I built my business on printing my designs on fabric and making stuff. Now there’s a handy service (VIDA) that makes stuff with your uploaded design and sells it to others. I am just leery of any “catches.” Can you look at the licensing agreement?Read More
Dear Rich: Can I Be Sued for Modifying My Own Writing That I Donated to the Public Domain?
I believe that a greatly modified public domain work would be a new work and therefore copyrightable, right? I couldn’t be sued for modifying my own writing, could I? What are my rights in this case?Read More
Dear Rich: Pancho’s Copyright Status, and Contract Questions
Beware that the Cisco Kid’s sidekick Pancho’s copyright status is not as clear. Pancho did not appear in the O Henry story and was reportedly inspired by Don Quixote’s sidekick, Pancho Sanza. His first appearance was in the 1945 film, The Cisco Kid Returns (not to be confused with the 1939 film, Return of the Cisco Kid).Read More
Dear Rich: Can We Use Ancestry and DNA Information in Book?
I’m helping two authors with a manuscript about their experiences researching their ancestors who were slaves. I am unclear about the legal rights associated with certain material including: 1) publication of information found in public records, 2) publication of information from church records, historical society records, family bibles, etc.Read More
Dear Rich: I Was In a Music Video But Never Paid
Congratulations on being viewed by more people than the combined population of South Dakota, Delaware and Montana. Although your numbers pale when compared to Grumpy Cat or OMG Cat, you do have something in common with those feline YouTube stars: You’re not likely to see a paycheck. Here’s why.Read More
Dear Rich: My Co-Writer Disappeared. How Do I License Our Song?
It sounds as if you and the composer—like Felice and Boudleaux Bryant—intended to combine words and music into “inseparable or interdependent parts.” That makes you and the composer joint copyright owners of the song.Read More
Dear Rich: Do Interview Release Forms Expire?
I have signed and dated permissions forms that explicitly inform the participant that their recorded interview could end up in a published journal or book. Is there an expiration date on the permission they granted?Read More
Dear Rich: I Never Got Paid for My Photo. Can I Sue?
My husband’s photo was chosen by a huge non-profit for a postcard. He signed a non-exclusive licensing agreement for the use with payment of $250. They have never paid us and continue selling the postcard into the millions of copies. Can’t we sue?Read More
Dear Rich: Can I Use Sheet Music as Part of a Crafts Product?
The question you’re wrestling with—whether the purchase of a copyrighted item permits you to use the item as part of another product—has come up several times in court cases.Read More
Dear Rich: Can I Sell Stuff I Found in a Dumpster?
The general rule is that you can keep and dispose of property once it has been deposited in a trash receptacle from which routine collections are made (and once the person throwing it away has left the area).Read More
Dear Rich: Can I Copyright Colorized Photos from Public Domain?
If the underlying work is in the public domain, you’re free to do what you want with it. If the work is not in the public domain, you will need permission from the copyright owner to reproduce or sell the derivative (or risk a charge of infringement).Read More
Dear Rich: Can I Make ‘Night of the Living Dead’ Action Figures?
Normally you would need two permissions to sell movie action figures: permission from the copyright owner of the movie, and permission from the actor (referred to as publicity rights). Because Night of the Living Dead is public domain, there is no copyright owner from whom you’ll need permission. However, you would need permission from the actors.Read More
Dear Rich: Can I Stream My Cover Song?
We’re not sure imitation is always flattery, but we are pretty sure it’s not infringement. Copyright doesn’t recognize style, vibe, feel, or genre, only original content (though that rule has been tested recently).Read More
Dear Rich: Can I Quote Hemingway or Dickens in a Stage Play?
Borrowing just a few passages, combined with a transformative purpose (a fictional character’s quoting of Hemingway) makes your stage play a good candidate for fair use. The trouble with our analysis is that only a court can substantiate a fair use claim.Read More
Dear Rich: Are ‘Alternative Facts’ Protected Under Copyright Law?
Like Vandelay Industries and the Bond of Blood charm, alternative facts (i.e. massive voter fraud in New Hampshire) are created facts, not discovered, and therefore demonstrate the minimum of originality.Read More