The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

The Tricky World of Permissions February 5, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, my sweetie, who is a singer/songwriter, got invited with another singer/songwriter friend to perform at an open-mic night. The host was a restaurant. The business-savvy owner wanted to video tape them and put the footage on YouTube.

My sweetie had some pretty big concerns about this: first of all, as with many open-mic sessions, the songs he performed were works-in-progress, so the quality of the songs might not have been at a polished, professional level. Secondly, because they were works-in-progress, they hadn’t been copyrighted in any way, and he was concerned about someone else taking his tunes off of YouTube without permission.

Now, I’m the biggest advocate of using social media to promote your art career. In fact, these days, it’s difficult to get noticed by the big guys unless you already have a built-in fan base of adoring fans. Witness Justin Bieber. Justin is a teenager from Stratford who wanted to be a musician. So, he started his own YouTube channel, and built a fan base. It was only after that, that he got a record deal.

There’s no doubt about it–social media is powerful. So powerful, that you need to be careful with it, sometimes. If my sweetie’s songs had been out on YouTube in their currently unfinished form, it may not have shown his work in the best light. Or worse, someone else could have co-opted his work.

I recently had a conversation with a professor of theatre at a BC University. He was directing a play last year, and the play called for partial nudity. Unsure what to do, he took the question to the students, and the response was, “are you going to confiscate everyone’s phones at the door?” A well-timed photo taken surreptitiously on a phone’s camera cause real damage to that actor if it got out on Facebook.

So here’s a couple of things to bear in mind when you are using other people’s art in social media:

  • Ask permission first–“Is it okay if I use your photo/song/video on my blog post?”
  • Give credit where credit is due: whenever I use photos of a play, I always credit the photographer, even if they were paid for the job.
  • Vet the post past the person before you hit publish: send the person whose work you are using a copy of the blog post before you publish it, to make sure they are okay with what you’ve written.

The bottom line is this: think the golden rule. Wouldn’t you rather be asked if you were okay with someone sharing your stuff before they do?

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4 Responses to “The Tricky World of Permissions”

  1. Susan Weiss Says:

    Very sage advice and sometimes getting a sign-off is a great backup.

    PR is PR, but goodwill in PR is precious!

  2. Dave Charest Says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    Just to clarify here. We’re talking about asking permission to use works that the artist themselves haven’t posted on social media, correct?

    If the artist has posted the work, the whole point is for it to spread as far an wide as possible. This needn’t be permission based. Permission is already given by the act of posting.

    But yes, in either case crediting and linking to the artists involved is the proper thing to do.

    Dave
    P.S. Does sweetie have any songs we can listen to? =)

  3. Exactly, Dave. Thanks for clarifying that. Beiber didn’t get that record contract by sitting on his YouTube videos.
    Sweetie was recording in the studio last weekend, so you never know….

  4. Nadira Jamal Says:

    Posting the video on YouTube wouldn’t put his copyright in danger. A work is copyrighted as soon as it is recorded in a tangible way (sheet music, audio, video, etc.). Formal registration isn’t required; it just makes it a whole lot easier to prove and enforce your rights.

    Now, that’s not to say that the song is completely safe; even registered copyrighted works get stolen. But if this the song hasn’t been recorded or written down before the open mic, it’s actually *safer* after having been videotaped.

    I found this guide really helpful:
    http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf


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