If you copy someone’s work when you’re young, you’re called a copycat. You might get in trouble with your teacher. Maybe with the person you copied from, but it doesn’t hurt a lot.
If you copy when you’re older, like in high school, you might get a bad grade. If you do it in college, it’s serious. The name even changes. It’s called plagarism. Not only will you get a bad grade, you might be kicked out of college. It might stay on your academic record, making it hard/impossible to get into another school.
Part 1 - Meet Ed Sheeran: He’s a famous musician/songwriter, but he’s run into a couple of copyright issues.
I did too, when I found these public domain pictures of Ed. I’m allowed to share them with you, but only if I acknowledge the photographer. If I don’t, I could get into trouble. I don’t like trouble, so I”ll paste their names below the pictures. It’s the right thing to do too, to give creators credit for their work.
Look at both pictures. Which Ed looks older? If you said the first one, you’re right. It was taken in 2018 in Berlin. The second one is from a festival in 2014. Ed changed a lot, in those four years.
Would you believe that it was in 2014 that Ed got into copyright problems. Why? What happened? Keep reading. My source:
Link: Ed Sheeran wins Thinking Out Loud copyright case - BBC News
In 2014 Ed was hit with a lawsuit over his hit, “Thinking Out Loud.” The children of Ed Townsend thought it was too close to their dad’s hit with Marvin Gaye. , “Let’s Get It On.”
Ed Townsend’s children thought Ed Sheeran copied too much from their dad, and the kids sued Ed, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music for copyright infringement. The case wasn’t settled until May 4 of this year, 2023. Nine years is a long time to wait for a judgement. It’s also a long time to pay a lawyer.
The heart of the case wraps around the chords and rhythms. Ed Sheeran’s lawyer says those elements are like the letters of the alphabet. They build words. In music those elements build songs. The other side says they don’t own the elements, but they own their father’s unique arrangement of them.
Both sides in the litigation, must have had good points to keep the court case alive. Good pieces of evidence. So what tipped the scales for Ed Sheeran, all puns intended? 😊 He testified, with his guitar. He sang bits of his song and talked about the four chords he used to write it. He probably talked about the four chords in the other song, and how they were different.
Ed talked about writing it in England with his friend Amy Wadge. He said he was inspired by his grandparents, and by a new someone he’d started seeing.
Both sides used musicologists, people who study how music is put together. They use computers to help them analyze it. Ed Sheeran’s witness pointed out those same four-chords in question, they were found in a couple of songs written and produced before Marvin’s song came out in 1973. Marvin and Ed were never sued over those chords, and their hit came out 31 years before Ed Sheeran’s.
During the trial Ed’s lawyer said, “These are basic musical building blocks that songwriters now and forever must be free to use, or all of us who love music will be poorer for it.” Ed Townsend’s children, Ed Sheeran’s, and children yet unborn will never hear that music, or write it either.
Ed told reporters he’d quit singing and writing songs if he was found guilty. Thank goodness he wasn’t. His talent, his genius would have been lost, forever.
Afterwards, Ed thanked the jurors, but he said he was also “frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all.” He added, if the verdict had been guilty, “we might as well say goodbye to the creative freedom of songwriters.”
Ed is not done with copyright lawsuits. There’s still one hanging over his head for “Thinking Out Loud.” David Pullman is an investment banker, and his company holds the copyright for the Marvin Gaye song too. He has the next lawsuit.
I write for children, and I can see both sides of the issue. I’m just glad I don’t have to sit in judgement on this case, or any others.
Part 2: Copyright, for Reading a Book: I started doing Saturday Reads in April of 2022. I was excited about sharing new books and authors with you. I’ve always been a reader, and one of my favorite things . . . reading out loud. This seemed perfect!
A few months later a friend asked about Saturday Reads. I told her I read and record a picture book every Saturday. Then she asked if I had permission from the publisher. That’s when I got a sinking feeling. I hadn’t even thought about it, until she asked. Now, I was worried. Violating copyright is expensive, even if you do it by accident, and that’s exactly what I’d done.
This is a copyright for a children’s book. It’s mine, so I have permission to share it with you.
Copyright © 2019 by Rinda Beach. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written per-mission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.
The underlined part, those are the important words. I asked another writing friend about them. She’s also a small publisher. She said I could still do Saturday Reads, but only if I read part of the book. She explained that by recording it, a reader could get the book without buying it. That’s not fair to the publisher, or to the author/illustrator, and I’m one of those. I had no idea, but now I do, so I changed how I do Saturday Reads.
Now I stop at/before the halfway point, when there’s a question about how the story ends. Then I tell curious readers to check out the book at their local library or book store. I still get to introduce new books and authors, but now it’s the right way. I’m grateful to both of my friends. One warned me about the danger, and the other showed me how to share books correctly.
Part 3: Copyright and a Photo – How I Got Burned:
It all started with a photo, but not this one. It’s public domain, so I’m safe to use it. The one I picked, it wasn’t.
Back in the day when I was teaching, I took some tech classes, and they said it was alright to use Bing images. I thought that was still true when I started my blog in November of 2016. I was writing, but I wasn’t making money from my blog. WRONG!
This isn’t the photo either, but the original one was of Donald Trump. It was taken back in August of 2017, back when there was a huge eclipse, and it was supposed to be the best one, for a long time. If you’d like to read what I wrote back then, here’s the link . . .
But now you won’t find anything about Donald Trump in that post. I’d written about how everyone, including Donald, Melania, and Barron went outside to see the eclipse. They had special glasses on, like everyone else across the country. I wrote about the First Family, and I had a picture of them too.
That photo stayed up for half a year or more. Then one day I got an email from a law firm in Canada. They were representing a French newspaper/magazine. The email asked me to cease and desist. They wanted me to take down the picture, because of copyright. AND they wanted money, almost $200 for my mistake.
I wanted to ignore it, but I couldn’t. They had me! They had a photo of the post, with the date, and the photo in question. I didn’t ask any more questions. They gave me a number to call, and I did. I spoke to a lawyer, and I told her my story . . . how I was a retired teacher and an unpublished writer, who wasn’t making any money from their photo, or from my website. I also told them I’d already taken the photo down, per their request.
It wasn’t enough. I still had to pay a fine, just like you do when you get a speeding ticket. (You have to have a really good excuse to get out of it, like you’re having a baby.) I didn’t, but they took my situation into account. They cut my fine in half, and I learned how to find and use Public Domain pictures.
I was scared to death for at least six months. I’d been using Bing photos for almost a year, but I lucked out. No one else contacted me, but, I learned my lesson, at least about photos. Now I never search Bing for them. I go to Pixabay or Wikipedia, and I follow their rules (like I did with the photos of Ed Sheeran). Copyright lawsuits are expensive. Ask Ed!
Part 4: Copyright and My First Book: This was my first, and worst experience with copyright. I’d done all the work, gone through all the problems that go with writing and publishing a book. I’d lost and found three illustrators. That was the first time I was dead in the water. Then I’d found a friend who helped me with the illustration codes for IngramSparks, my printer. If he hadn’t figured it out, I would have been dead in the water again.
That’s when the third one hit. I was meeting with a local business group in April. I wanted to spread the word that my book was coming out in May . . . Someone asked if I’d talked to Purdue. I looked at them, completely blank. She said Purdue had a foundation that owns the copyright to Neil Armstrong’s name and image. Later a friend said I look shell-shocked. I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t know what to do next, except cry.
There’s always a silver lining, if you’re willing to look for it. I had a critique group that afternoon, and one of the members is a small Texas publisher. She looked up the copyright and showed it to me. (I couldn’t even find it.) Then I had to figure out what to do next. I’m a retired second grade teacher. I didn’t know anything about copyright back then, but I’ve always known how to ask questions. It’s one of my superpowers.
So, I asked a friend, my daughter’s mother-in-law. She’s actually a copyright lawyer. How lucky was that?! I gave her a call. The next day she had the name of the contact at Purdue, and she had gathered information for me. She coached me on what to do, but she didn’t represent me . . . lawyers can’t work outside their own state lines. She helped me figure out what to say. Then she nudged me and got me moving.
It took a month, but I finally got permission from Purdue. Why? How? Money! I negotiated a contract with them (I know . . . crazy . . . for a retired teacher to do). Someone told me this group of lawyers even represented Marilyn Monroe’s estate. OUCH! Lucky them, this time they were working with a retired teacher. Me.
My lawyer friend showed me how to decide if an offer was fair, for me. The first one wasn’t. Every penny I earned, plus an extra nickel, went to Purdue. They had no idea, literally. We went back and forth a few times (I know . . . it still amazes me that I did it.), and we finally came to an agreement that worked for Purdue, and for me too. Thank Goodness!
I didn’t set the publishing date, not until the contract was signed and dated. THEN, I could sell my book. It was the first time I learned writing is a business. If you can’t make money by selling a good or service, you can’t stay in business. According to the IRS, my business is considered a hobby. Why? I don’t make enough money to qualify. Entrepreneurship is NOT for the faint of heart. It’s for businesspeople who can produce goods and services at a reasonable price, pay for their expenses (people and materials) and make enough money to pay for their own expenses (their own wants and needs). If you can’t do that, you are a hobbyist, like me.
This is my first book! It’s my best seller, and I still sell a few books, here and there. Not as many as I did in 2019, when it first came out. That was also the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Perfect timing!
This is my wind tunnel. I had to build one to write the book. If you can’t picture something, you can’t write about it. If you want to picture Neil’s, look at my fan. Then imagine his . . . He used the propeller, from a real airplane. Stove pipe encased it, so that every bit of wind went through his tunnel, just like it does in my tiny version.
I’m thankful for my experiences with copyright. I learned over the years that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. And smarter. Copyright protects me, and the things I create. It also protects my fellow creators and the work they produce.
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!