rihanna copyright

Copyright Law: Learning from Rihanna

Earlier this month, I discussed how Nicki Minaj agreed to pay Tracy Chapman to settle a copyright infringement dispute. Well, another artist has also found themselves in a similar position. Rihanna is being sued for copyright infringement for allegedly using a song in her Fenty advert by father-daughter duo, King Khan and Saba Lou.

According to TMZ, who viewed the legal documents, and confirmed by Pitchfork, King Khan and Saba Lou claim that they didn’t give Rihanna permission to use their 2012 song Good Habits (and Bad), stating that they believe that she took it from a streaming platform. This would mean that Rihanna didn’t have a licence to use the song. Good Habits (and Bad) was used in an Instagram post by Rihanna advertising Fenty accessories. The claim states that the advert has been viewed more than 3.4 million times. King Khan and Saba Lou have sued for an unspecified amount of damages and want Rihanna to stop using the song. To date, Rihanna has not publicly responded.

Understanding Copyright Law

It’s important for upcoming artists and creatives to have a basic understanding of copyright law and issues relating to it, particularly if you have limited access to legal professionals.

Copyright is a type of intellectual property right; legal rights that a person has over creations of their mind. It protects artistic output (i.e. creative expression), preventing it from illegally being copied. Copyright protection in the UK arises automatically; there is no need to register anything, and lasts 70 years from the end of the creator’s death.

Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as books, music, films, and photographs are protected under copyright law. The work however must be original, as in originality of expression and form, not idea or content.

The majority of copyright works (e.g. music and film) will still be protected both in the UK and EU even though the Brexit transition period has ended. This is due to both the UK and EU being participants of international copyright treaties. This applies to both works created before and after 1 January 2021.

Copyright Infringement and Licences

Understandably, upcoming creatives might have limited knowledge about intellectual property law, and it can be difficult to even prove copying. Knowing what infringement means is a crucial way to avoid such claims, and to know if you could bring a claim if you feel your work has been copied.

Infringement does not need to be copying the whole work. Only a substantial part is required, reproducing it in any material form. For example, if you created a song and only one verse from it was copied without your permission and used elsewhere, you would have grounds for a copyright infringement claim. This is why you sometimes hear YouTubers say that they don’t want to get ‘copyrighted’ for playing a substantial part of music in their videos, which also means that their video would be demonetised.

Performing or broadcasting a work in public without permission would be an infringement. Adapting works such as translating written pieces or rearranging music would also be copyright infringement.

To avoid such claims, it is important to get permission from the creator of the work, often granted as a licence. Upcoming creatives can also capitalise on their own intellectual property by granting licences for their work to be used. Not only is it a good way to reach a wider audience with your work, but also generates more needed income. Licensing is greatly used within the music and entertainment industry, as royalties. These are payments made to a creator for the use of their intellectual property (e.g. a song). Management or a record label would most likely deal with royalties.

So if you want to use another creative’s work, get permission from them first. If you want to give permission for your work to be used, grant a licence.

Words By: Des Okongwu Legal & Business Affairs Correspondent

NB: The information shared in this article does not constitute legal advice.

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