Copyright is a bundle of rights assigned to the owner/creator of an original work. Those rights are automatically assigned at the time the work is created. For the sound designer and recordist, these rights are essential in order to control any sound recording created and how it can be used. It is fair to say that they are the soul of our work.
Copyright must be respected and considered at all times when recording sound effects. It’s easy to overlook potential copyright infringement when out in the busy world of recording. We are bombarded with recorded sound on a daily basis and it has become an ingrained part of our lives. From advertisements and radio and television shows to toys and ringtones, copyright-protected material is everywhere and it’s very easy to accidentally capture copyright-protected sound in a sound effect recording. Doing so renders that sound effect unusable with the potential for serious legal action against you.
So how easy is it to accidentally capture copyrighted material in a sound effects recording? The short answer is very easy. On many occasions I have been in the studio editing recordings I have just made and realize I have captured the ringtone of a passing person’s phone or the music playing in a passing car. It may seem insignificant, but those ringtones or music are protected by copyright and it is illegal to record or distribute copyrighted works without the permission of the copyright owner.
I’ve compiled a list of some of the copyrighted sounds we hear on a regular basis that we may accidentally catch when recording sound effects:
1. Music: music is everywhere: on the radio; television; stereo system; background music in stores; restaurants and bars; computer games; toys; contraption; sporting events and more.
2. Ringtones – Most modern cell phones have a variety of recorded ringtones available and many are protected by copyright. Even that old phone ‘Bell’ sound is probably a recording and is protected by copyright.
3. Toys and Games – Electronic toys and games often use short audio recordings. From the spoken catchphrase on an action figure to the buzzer on a board game, they’re probably protected by copyright.
4. Computer Games – The audio of any computer game is almost certainly copyrighted, including arcade games.
5. Software: All those interface beeps, button clicks, musical signatures, etc. they are all likely to be protected by copyright.
6. Recorded Ads – These can be some of the easiest copyright infringements to commit. Recorded announcements can be heard at: train stations; airports; bus/coach terminals; sports events; trains; aircraft; buses; ferries; elevators; stores and many more places.
So always remember to consider what and where you are recording. Take the time to listen to the surroundings of where you will be recording to establish the risk of recording copyrighted material. Doing so will not only waste your time, but it could cause you serious legal trouble.