Copyright is a set of rights assigned to the owner/creator of a piece of original work. Those rights are assigned automatically upon creation of the work. For the sound recordist and designer, these rights are essential in order to give control over any sound recordings created and how they can be used. It's fair to say they are the lifeblood of our work.
Copyright must be respected and considered at all times when recording sound effects. It's easy to overlook possible copyright infringements when out in the busy world recording. We are bombarded with recorded sound on a daily basis and it has become an ingrained part of our lives. From advertising and television and radio programmes to toys and ringtones, copyright material is everywhere and it's very easy to accidentally capture sound under copyright in a sound effect recording. If you do, it renders that sound effect unusable with the possibility of serious legal action being taken against you.
So just how easy is it to accidentally capture copyright material in a sound effect recording? The short answer is very easy. On many occasions I have been in the studio editing down recordings I have just made and realised I captured a ringtone of a passing person's phone or music being played in a passing car. It may sound insignificant, but those ringtones or that music is under copyright and it's illegal to record or distribute copyrighted work without permission from the copyright owner.
I have compiled a list of just some of the copyrighted sounds we hear regularly and may accidentally capture when recording sound effects:
1. Music - music is everywhere: on the radio; television; stereo system; background music in shops; restaurants and bars; computer games; toys; gadgets; sporting events and more.
2. Ringtones - most modern cell phones have a range of recorded ringtones available and many are under copyright. Even that old sound of a 'Bell' telephone is probably a recording and under copyright.
3. Toys and Games - electronic toys and games often use short audio recordings. From an action figure's spoken catchphrase to the buzzer on a board game, they are probably under copyright.
4. Computer Games - It's almost a certainty that the audio in any computer game is under copyright, including amusement arcade games.
5. Software - All those interface beeps, button clicks, musical signatures etc. are all likely to be under copyright.
6. Recorded Announcements - These can be some of the easiest copyright infringements to make. Recorded announcements can be heard in: train stations; airports; bus/coach terminals; sporting events; trains; aircraft; busses; ferries; elevators; shops and many more places.
So remember to always consider what and where you are recording. Take time to listen to the surroundings of where you are going to record to establish the risk of recording copyrighted material. It won't only be a waste of your time if you do but can land you in serious legal trouble.
Alan McKinney is the founder and co-owner of http://www.soundscalpel.com/ a professional sound effect and production music library and professional sound designer with over 15 years experience.