Saturday, July 23, 2011

Essay on Copyright

Essay on Copyright

Kit Liew is a rising figure in Singapore's music industry, and at 22 has already started to show real promise. Her songs (both in English and in Chinese) have a unique style that combines modern Rock with Chinese influences. Those experienced in the music industry are optimistic that her style, combined with her good looks, will make her a hit in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, also.

The beginning of Kit's career was in the NTU Music Society, where she and her friends Nimrod Pang (a guitarist) and schoolmate "Ringo" Chan formed the band Stonyroad. This band lasted for nearly three years, and enabled the three friends to earn some money while honing their musical skills. In addition to singing their own versions of popular songs, the members of Stonyroad wrote and performed a number of their own songs. One of these was a Mandarin number called Living Hope.

Sadly, Stonyroad broke up shortly after the three friends graduated, when Ringo Chan moved to Canada and lost touch with his former band mates. Kit and Nimrod remained friends, though they saw less and less of each other and only Kit continued to perform.

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These days, Nimrod works in a record store, but devotes himself to developing a music website he calls Singsongster.com. The site has lots of information about local artists, a discussion board, and allows file sharing for local music. There are also downloadable songs and video clips. Over the last year the site has grown enormously, and Nimrod has become an influential figure in the local music scene with many contacts among Singapore and overseas artists.

Kit has been actively performing. While not yet cracking the big time, she has established a respectable following. Her career got a boost when shortly after graduation she sang an English version of the song Living Hope at a Talentime show. It was a turning point. She got some unexpected publicity when a photographer from a major daily took her picture, which was published on the cover of the Straits Times with the caption "Watch Out, Stephanie Sun!" She was also spotted by Aaron Quek, a young entrepreneur who immediately saw her potential and persuaded her to sign on with him as her agent. An experienced music agent, Aaron had managed a number of minor stars, but his instincts told him that Kit had the potential to eclipse them all.

After months of effort, Aaron succeeded in getting Kit an audition with Soaring Eagle Records, one of the larger recording companies in South East Asia. Singing Living Hope, Kit recently cut her first CD single with Soaring Eagle, and it is this single that Aaron hopes will launch her career. Although the commercial version of the song is in English and the melody has been slightly modified, the Soaring Eagle CD is easily recognisable as the same Mandarin song that was performed by Stonyroad.

Stephanie Sun is a popular Singaporean singer, and a graduate of Nanyang Business School.

Aaron—ā's dilemma
As Living Hope climbed the charts and Kit Liew's fame began to spread, Aaron received a call from Frank Lee, Publishing Executive of Soaring Eagle records.

"Aaron, I'm a little concerned," Frank begins. "One of my employees was listening to the music on a local website called Singsongster.com when he came across something disturbing. It appears that a Mandarin version of Kit Liew singing Living Hope is available as a free download. A little digging, and he found that the website is owned by her former guitarist, a guy called Nimrod Pang. You do recall that you signed the rights to her music to us?"

Aaron, still a little shocked said, "the song's in Mandarin, you know, and the melody is different. In any case the recording quality is rather inferior, so it's really no threat to the CD".

"Hey, I'm sorry" Frank replied. "But I must insist that this Pang person remove the song from the site immediately. You know, we in the recording industry are trying to crack down on this sort of thing. Singapore used to have a bad name for being soft on copyright cheats. It's only in the last fifteen years or so that we've managed to show the world we're serious about protecting artists property. Now, with the Free Trade Agreement with the US, we're going to get some real teeth. One option we could pursue is to get the local internet service providers to give us the names and download history of the people who use Pang's site. He is responsible not just for the downloadable songs on the site but also for any copyrighted song that is shared via his site. Believe me, he'd better not play games with us".

"Websites like this one take advantage of other people's work without bearing any of the costs or the risks," Frank continued. "I think it is theft, pure and simple. That said, I want this problem with Singsongster to go away without legal action. Our experts give us a good chance of winning a suit, but online music is a fast-moving, delicate and often tricky area of law. Even if we win, we waste a lot of time and money on a lawsuit, as well as running the risk of looking like a corporate bully to the "free-music" nuts. Your client's career is still taking off, and her future relationships with us will be smoother if we can work in mutual trust."

Turning over this veiled threat in his mind, Aaron mumbled something about getting Kit's help to get the song removed from the Singsongster site and promised to get back to Frank soon.

Copyright gives the holder the right to use and authorise others to use original works in specified ways. It protects the form of expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself. The idea must be in a permanent form, such as a drawing, a piece of writing or a recording.

Singapore became a member of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886) on 21 December 1998. Under this convention, all nationals and residents of member states of the Convention have the same rights as Singapore nationals. An unpublished original work is protected if the author is a Singapore citizen or resident, or a citizen of any of the signatory or "gazette" countries at the time when the work was made. Violators of copyright can be fined up to $10000 or imprisoned for up to 5 years. Singapore law is being further tightened following the signing of a Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 2003.

Hearing Aaron's report on the Soaring Eagle position, Kit acknowledged that she was aware of the Singsongster.com website, and even that some Stonyroad songs were on it.

"How come you are so upset about the old Mandarin version of Living Hope anyway?" Kit asked. "It's like a lot of my songs," she continued. "They are inspired by old music from lots of different places, leh. We heard this traditional Chinese song on the radio and it got into my head After a time we were all humming the old tune and I realised it would translate really well into our style of rock. So I changed the tempo, and updated the lyrics, and we began performing it in Mandarin. Nimrod never believed it would take off. In fact, he told me if I wanted to make a fool of myself singing it, he'd be happy to help!"

Aaron explained "the song's a commercial hit, now! Soaring Eagle are producing it, so we can't let him keep using it. He has to take it off his website".

"Not possible, lah. How can we get him to do that?" Kit asked. "I've never registered any copyright for the song."

"Hmm, you don't have to register," he replied. "The rights of a song first composed or performed in Singapore belong to the writers of the lyrics and the music-in fact, there are two copyrights, one for the words and one for the music. In this particular case," Aaron continued, "since you were the composer of the music and the writer of the lyrics, both copyrights belong to you. So you are free to sell the song to a record company such as Soaring Eagle."

"Also, there's an issue of performer's rights," he added. "As one of the performers, you are entitled to ask that the recording be removed from the Internet, unless you knew that the recording was being made for broadcast and you had previously said it was OK".

Kit paused. "Well, that never really came up. I knew he was recording it, but the website didn't exist at the time. What will happen if Nimrod doesn't remove the song?" she asked.

"Then Soaring Eagle will either go to court to have it removed, very likely demanding that Nimrod pay the costs of the action, or they could drop plans to produce it altogether," Aaron replied ominously. "In fact, under law changes that are coming in with the Singapore - US free Trade Agreement, copyright holders can close down websites that violate copyright, even prosecuting people who download it and share it. Frank Lee didn't sound like he was ready to compromise. What worries me is that they might hold it against you, and you certainly don't want to offend Soaring Eagle at this stage of your career, you know".

Nimrod's View
Aaron asked Kit about Nimrod Pang and looked at the website to get some idea of his personality before talking to him.

According to Kit, Nimrod believed that the music industry did little to foster talent with a genuine local flavour, preferring to concentrate on what he called "Britney clones"; those artists who slavishly follow western trends and forget their Asian roots. She claimed he was still passionate about music, and was most proud of Singsongster.com, his own website.

Logging on to the site, Aaron found that the music of local artists could be downloaded in MP.3 format. The website also featured some busy discussion boards where musicians and fans could chat about music, buy or sell equipment and find band members. While the recording quality was quite amateurish, the website did seem to provide a showcase for local talent. Also, it was an opportunity for music enthusiasts to listen to and talk about lesser-known artists. Aaron confirmed that Living Hope was still on the site, along with several other songs by Stonyroad. In his professional opinion, however, none of the other songs held the same promise as Living Hope.

The Singsongster website mission statement read:

This site provides downloadable local music to anyone who wants it. The songs can be in any of the official languages of Singapore. Consent for broadcast is always sought and willingly given by the artistes. We ask our visitors to respect the law, but do not accept responsibility for any copyrighted music that is shared.

Although we comply with the laws pertaining to copyright, we do so under protest. Music is not a commercial product; it is an expression of the human spirit. A true artist's passion is creativity, not money. The making and appreciation of music should never be controlled or regulated by corporate pirates seeking only to protect their vast profits (only a fraction of which are ever passed on to the musician) under the guise of "protecting intellectual property".


After thinking about Nimrod Pang's attitudes and his Singsongster site, Aaron called him to discuss the issue.

Nimrod told Aaron that the recording on the website was made at a student gig. "Of course she knew I'd broadcast it! We made the recording because we were trying to get a radio station to play the song!"

"Listen," he said. "I know about the law on recording. Kit has already tacitly consented to the use of the recording in public broadcasts because she knew we were recording the performance and why we were doing it." He went on to argue that the song had been on his website for some time, and Kit had been given plenty of time to object. "How can you do this?" he asked "you benefit from my site's publicity and now you want the song's removal because it's a hit!"

Aaron replied that Kit had agreed to the recording, but only as a private record. She had no intention of broadcasting the song, and had never given permission for Living Hope to be on the website. "Since she is the composer of the music and the lyrics, she is the copyright holder, and the song is her property," Aaron said.

"Wait a minute" Nimrod broke in. "That song was a group effort. Kit needed Ringo and me to put the music together, and we even suggested some revisions to the lyrics. You're making it sound like she did all the creative work. We composed it together, and it is our property, not hers alone. I understand your problem with the record company, and I sympathise. It doesn't surprise me; record companies are a bunch of crooks. You're telling me I can't play my own music over the Internet because some greedy Orchard Road businessman says so?"

Aaron tried to interject.
"Let me tell you something". Nimrod continued passionately. "Free music is as important as free speech. A true musician is not motivated by money, and has a moral obligation to keep music free. Record companies claim they are protecting the artist, but that's rubbish. How much of their obscene profit goes to the musicians? In any case, does downloading music really hurt the recording companies? When I hear songs I like on the Internet, I'm actually more inclined to buy the CD. It's a cheap and easy way of reaching potential consumers."

Aaron was shocked at this version of events. Obviously he had to clarify the situation with Kit before proceeding, so he thanked Nimrod, and promised to get back to him.

Kit's View
Kit was surprised to hear of Nimrod's claims. "He helped with the music, of course", she told Aaron, "but the song was my idea. I wrote the melody and most of the Mandarin lyrics. Nimrod just suggested a word or two here or there. And as for the English translation of Living Hope, it's my own work. The band had broken up before I did that."

"Do you have any evidence for that?" asked Aaron.

"Evidence? What do you mean? I can't prove it," she replied peevishly. "We mostly composed our music in my room in hall 2. And although we were all there, I was the one with all the ideas. Nimrod was involved, but Ringo - he didn't usually take much part in the creative process."

Aaron decided he would need more background information before proceeding with any action against Nimrod. After the conversation with Kit, he looked at a couple of Nanyang Chronicle articles that had appeared at the time.

Stonyroad was in fact a great example of student entrepreneurship. It enjoyed such success that the three amateur musicians were able to earn reasonable money by playing at a nightspot while studying at Nanyang Technological University by day. They also played at various student functions. Living Hope was mentioned as easily the best of the group's songs.

As for the critical question of song authorship, the Chronicle had reported:

[Nimrod] is the business manager of the group, employing his considerable charm to get gigs and media attention. Kit, the vocalist and keyboard player, is the creative force and the one who can claim credit for most of the group's songs. She told our reporter "I get my ideas form all sorts of places: traditional songs, Rock'n'Roll, even bird song."

There wasn't much information on Ringo Chan, but Kit told Aaron privately that Ringo played for money but had no interest in music as a career.

A Personal Appeal
After Aaron and Kit discussed the matter further, Kit declared she would call Nimrod and appeal to him directly. Although they had drifted apart, they had once been good friends.

Nimrod was sympathetic, but unwilling to change his mind. "I'm sorry, Kit" he said. "You know I'm your biggest fan, but you have to realise that the principle here is bigger than any one song and bigger than any one person. I really believe in the stand I take on Free Music. I thought you did, too."

"This is my big break, Nimrod" Kit pleaded. "Living Hope could be the one that gets me into the big time."

"There'll be other songs," replied Nimrod uncomfortably.

"I won't get to produce any other songs unless I have a record label behind me," Kit pointed out. "Soaring Eagle is really adamant about this. And after all, Living Hope is basically my song."

Nimrod bristled at this. "It was a group effort, Kit," he said heatedly. "You got a larger share of the credit for the writing, but you had a chance to do that stuff because I kept the group on the road by arranging venues and chasing club owners for payment. You couldn't have done it without me. Bands are like marriages - you share the risks, you share the gains."

After a moment, Kit spoke up in a small voice. "Nimrod, I am the local talent you're trying to promote on Singsongster. You of all people know how hard it is for local artists in this business. I've worked really hard, I've got this one big chance, and I really need this one small favour from you. Please" she implored.

Nimrod was silent for some time. Then he said, "Look, I'll think about it. That's all I can say. But I really wish you hadn't asked for this."

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