What is the Best Way for DJs to Avoid Copyright Issues?

With more and more DJs making their own edits, mash-ups, productions, and mixes available online, the subject of copyright infringement has never been more widely discussed. If you have any concern on copyright issues, firstly let me say that I am not a lawyer.

I am not offering you legal advice that you should follow, and recommend that if you have any concerns that you should always consult with a legal professional.

However, there are some aspects and considerations in this article that I hope you will find helpful, but I can’t stress this enough – this article does not constitute legal advice.

OK so with that all being said, how can you ensure that as a producer or DJ, your digital content isn’t violating copyright laws? Here are some observations which I hope will help you understand how things work a little better.

Recording DJ Sets and Publishing Online

Probably the most common area where DJs might be concerned with copyright law is when they record promotional mixes or live sets and then publish them online on platforms such as YouTube and SoundCloud.

In really simple terms, a DJ set recorded in the moment is not considered to be a “fixed medium of expression” but that doesn’t mean a live set recording can’t be a copyright infringement.

Uploading your mix to a sharing website is something that literally thousands of DJs will do, but there is no guarantee that the mix will stay there, and won’t be flagged for copyright.

What will often happen is that producers and artists will have an agreement in place with platforms such as YouTube whereby they will take a small percentage of any advertising royalties earned via YouTube from your content being played.

With the majority of niche electronic dance music genres this is the common result we see, whereby a mix uploaded to YouTube will have ads overlayed on it, and even sometimes a clickable link in the video description to buy the original track online.

Let’s live in the real world for a moment though. Yes there are copyright issues regarding uploading other artist’s content, but in reality if nobody complains about it, then the mix will stay online.

My experience shows that record labels, in particular those in the dance music sector, like to see their tracks being contained within DJ mixes, as it gives the label exposure. In the worst cases we do see mixes being removed from online audio sharing platforms, but we’ve not heard of anyone being prosecuted or taken to court for doing so… it’s just too big a reality to even bother going after.

But as way of a caveat, that didn’t stop major record labels going after small fry home users during the Napster trials so there’s no guarantee this might not happen in the future.

Copyright Applied to Remixes

A common activity for DJs and producers is to remix tracks, giving them a new feel and placing their own individual elements over a piece of original work.

Remixing is a subject that is often discussed on DJ forums, and can lead to very heated debates. There’s no doubt, that remixing itself is an art form, and when done well can lead to amazing results.

But, any samples that you take from an original track or audio piece is being taken from another artist’s work – so in this case can be a tricky subject as the lines between “derivative works” and “fair use” tend to be very blurred.

With many audio sharing websites such as YouTube and SoundCloud now having the technology in place to analyse music recordings and pick up any copyrighted material, it can be very hard for your remix to even have any publish time before being flagged and taken down.

Having said that though, many DJs and producers will be sampling from other electronic dance music artists, and sometimes quite vague tracks where they might not be an official record of copyright – meaning the remixed content can get past being flagged.

But just because your audio content or remix doesn’t get flagged on the common sharing websites, doesn’t mean you aren’t breaking a law. Copyright law is still there to protect the original artist.

As I said, I am no lawyer, and by no means a legal expert. That’s why I would recommend you read up more on this subject, for example the question over whether or not remixing music is illegal in itself – this article on FindLaw.com goes into a lot more qualified detail on the matter.

For a concise overview of what FindLaw.com say though, here are some bulleted comments I have taken from their original article about whether producing remixes is illegal: 

Making a Remix: A Legal Checklist

In order to legally make a remix from copyrighted music, you need to:

  • Buy a copy of the song(s). Pirated music is still illegal despite how easily it is to obtain.
  • Obtain permission from the copyright holder. Each piece of recorded music has at least two copyrights: one for the song and one for the master recording. You need permission from both copyright holders in order to legally remix a copyrighted song.
  • Make a record of permission. Even if it’s just an email, you need some sort of written record that the copyright holder has allowed you to make a remix of his or her song.
  • Amateurs who want to just mix songs at home for their own personal use aren’t likely to run into trouble if they fail to obtain permission, unless there’s money involved.

To summarise though, whether you are making remixes to play at home, play out in a club, a public event, or publish online somewhere, then you could get in trouble with copyright law – and could prove to be an expensive mistake if the copyright holder decides to sue you for infringement.

My Conclusion on DJ Copyright Issues

I can’t stress this enough: I am not giving legal advice here. The information above is simply a collection of my own online research and observations over the last few years.

It appears to me that there are two very different sides to DJ copyright concerns.

The first is that you have a lot more freedom behind the decks when it comes to producing, recording, and publishing your sets or mixes online. It would appear that you have a lot more creative freedom, with the law seemingly not overly bothered about this type of activity.

However, things are a little different when it comes to the recording studio, and when you are producing or remixing tracks for commercial gain.

If you do need clarification, seek the advice of a legal professional. A blog post like this should never be classified as legal advice.

But if you really don’t want to encounter any potential copyright issues as a DJ, the best way to avoid any legal ramifications is to not remix tracks and sell them, and don’t publish any mixes online.

What a boring world…

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