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An Open Letter From a Songwriter to Those Who “Do Not Own This Song”

To those who “do not own this song/video/etc”

This is a letter of appeal to ask that you clarify for yourself the definition of “Copyright” and obtain necessary and proper permissions to reproduce artists’ works (in posts and public performances) in respect of their power of decision over matters of reproduction of their works, granted them as a vital human right, which is even guaranteed you in works you produce. As a songwriter, I can tell you, it is a very important right to protect. So I wish to clarify any confusion here and put things in perspective. Education is key.

On the surface, there is the term “reproduce” which seems to attract to it sufficient confusion. In this case, “Reproduction” would include any public performance of a work. This includes anywhere it can be accessed by anyone. YouTube is a prime example. Publishing a video on YouTube, featuring the song of an artist you like, is a “reproduction” of that song and is subject to the guidelines governing such activity: Copyright.

The root cause involves a popular confusion about the actual meaning of “Copyright” and many people mistake its definition for “ownership”, a gross abbreviation of its true meaning.

The tell-tale sign of this is when someone writes “I do not own this” in the description of a post of some work that belongs to someone else. YouTube is riddled with such commentaries. If you didn’t obtain permission from the original artist, however, this is still, actually and blatantly, a violation of the copyright held by the originator of the work.

“Copyright” is actually the right of an artist to control distribution of a work, not merely a statement of ownership. Therefore, when an artist creates a work and marks it “copyright”, ownership is already a given, he reserves the right to decide if and how it will be distributed or “copied” if you will. Hence, “COPY”-right. This means posted on YouTube, social media, public performance or the like. Any reproduction is subject to and dependent upon permission from the author of said work.

In effect, saying “I do not own this work” is actually admitting, “I published something I did not create” and automatically implies that it has been done without permission. Otherwise, proper copyright and “reproduced with permission” statements would accompany the post or performance. In absence of the source artist’s permission, this is yet a copyright violation.

When YouTube removes videos for Copyright Violation, for instance, many people think that it is suggesting the poster is claiming ownership, which is very seldom the intent. Such posts are mainly from fans and enthusiasts, though some, if few, may have less than ethical intent. This results in upsets that one has been accused of stealing or claiming ownership to something.

This appears to be the source of the ‘I do not own this song” tag. What the removal actually signifies, however, is that the poster did not obtain permission from the original artist and, without it, is in violation of YouTube agreements and terms. YouTube takes action in protection of the artist, the very party these license agreements are in place to protect.

This right is actually classified as a human right, validated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 27 reads, “…(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” Controlling performance of your written works certainly fits the bill in terms of “material interests”.

Simply-stated, the artist’s interests are his own. That means for you too. Wouldn’t you demand of your own rights to be protected? Well, fortunately for you, they are.

Perhaps one day, if it hasn’t happened already, this may protect you and your own works, whatever they may be. Consider what it would be for you not to have this right.

And, that is all I ask. Go through the proper channels to get permissions from those who contribute their works and respect their rights to control their exploitation, even if it is to keep it to themselves. Whether we understand these desires or not, even if they sound crazy, selfish or unreasonable, they are still guaranteed and protected by Copyright for the good of all, and that includes you too.

You may need to cash in on this protection someday. Pay it forward now.

Thank you for your consideration.

Frank Sardella