Between Vogue, Conde Nast & Kanye, Who is “Bound” by Music Copyright Laws?

Written by Angie Kandil

Landing on the cover of Vogue would be a dream for any celebrity.  When Vogue released its April 2014 issue with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West gracing the cover, the public’s reaction was an incredible amalgam of contagious excitement for the soon to be married couple and unveiled cynicism regarding Anna Wintour’s unforeseen decision. The masses took to Twitter and other social media in what can only be described as an uproar to post their opinions.

One person who was definitely not too pleased with Vogue is Rickey Spicer, who is currently suing Vogue and Vogue’s publisher, Condé Nast, for copyright infringement, for using a song in an exclusive behind-the-scenes video on Vogue’s website.  Spicer was a member of the 1970’s boy band, The Ponderosa Twins Plus One.  In December 2013, Spicer sued Kanye West for copyright infringement for using one of his songs on West’s track, “Bound 2” without first securing Spicer’s permission.  This lawsuit is still pending.

Recently, the same track was used for Vogue’s behind-the-scenes video, featured on its website.  The 44-second video shows a picturesque Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and their baby daughter, North, on the set for Vogue’s photo shoot with renowned photographer, Annie Leibovitz.

Spicer filed a civil lawsuit in Manhattan, which states, “Mr. Spicer’s voice is used substantially throughout the video, comprising approximately 44 percent of the lyrics.”  He further alleges that Vogue “knowingly used the video audio recording of Mr. Spicer without his authorization or consent.”

Luckily for Spicer, music and lyrics are protected by copyright laws.  Copyright laws serve to legally protect authors of “original works of authorship.”  Essentially, the author reserves the rights to the music under copyright laws, and unauthorized use of the music would constitute copyright infringement.  Copyright law provides the rights to reproduce and distribute the original work, perform and display the original work to the public, and to create new works based on the original work.

Interestingly, composition copyright and sound recording copyright are distinct from one another, which means that when a musician creates and publishes a new song, the musician should obtain copyright protection for both the composition of the song and the sound recording separately.

Most importantly, the issue is who owns the copyright to music; that is, does Spicer actually own the copyright to the song in question?  This information is not available, yet it will be a determinative factor in his lawsuit.  The unencumbered answer is: if Spicer owns the copyright to the song, then he will probably have a successful lawsuit. Sometimes, however, the song’s copyright may have been assigned to someone else, such as the record label. Determining ownership is imperative.  So long as Spicer is an owner of the copyright, his lawsuit may result in a potentially successful outcome.

As a side note, if the song is found to be in a “public domain” then it may be used freely by the public without first securing the permission or authorization of the copyright’s owner.  Public domain means that the work is not protected under copyright laws because its protection expired or because it failed to meet the copyright requirements. If the song is found to be in the public domain, then Kanye West will not be “bound” by copyright and may enjoy the freedom of using the song.

About the author

Angie Kandil

Angie Kandil is a graduate of Widener University School of Law-Delaware, where she earned her JD and received the Pro Bono Recognition Award. While attending Rutgers University, Angie majored in Journalism and Mass Media Studies and Political Science. Formerly a journalist, Angie’s love and passion for communication and journalism law is the propelling force behind her decision to attend law school and is now the drive behind her interest in all things intellectual property.

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