Musical Ethics Question

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by The Golden Boy, Jan 14, 2005.

  1. A couple of days ago I pulled out a CD of a band I used to be in and threw it in the car. Last night on the way home from work I put it in and listened to it- this particular CD had the results from the our last recording session that we never finished.

    One of those "unfinished" songs is really cool, and I'd totally forgotten about it- the music is around 80-90% mine and the lyrics are less than 10% mine. (it's the only unfinished song with scratch vocals- I don't remember any of the lyrics from the other two)

    As I listened to this song I thought the band I'm in now could really do something cool with it. I haven't talked to the singer/guitarist of the old band since early spring of '98 for a number of reasons- one of which being he decided to stop playing music in a live setting.

    The ethical question is can I, in good conscience, use that song? The lyrics aren't mine, but I had a major hand in the music, it's never been released and if my current band were to record and release it I'd have the guy's name credited.

    How does this situation differ from doing an ordinary cover?
  2. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    Legally, the song belongs to whomever copyrights it first. Note that copyright covers lyrics and melodies, while chord changes and rhythms are in a legal grey zone- not much protection on those.

    Ethically, you should tell the guy you want to use the music you wrote, and that you'd be glad to credit him and include him in any future copyright.
  3. Yup, simple as that. :)
  4. well, you could always just ask him if you could use it
  5. DigMe


    Aug 10, 2002
    Waco, TX
    You could always just write new lyrics too. Movie soundtrack composer James Horner constantly rehashes and plagiarizes his own work (is it called plagiarism with music?).

    brad cook
  6. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Mostly it's called copyright infringement.

    LEGALLY - if the song does not have a copyright (as someone pointed out earlier) then you can legally apply for copyright even if you wrote 0% of the melody and lyrics. It doesn't matter if your non-performing buddy wrote it or Michael Jackson wrote it.

    ETHICALLY - do you really want to claim credit and financial recompense from work that was not entirely your effort? I'll bet not (hence this thread). But by the same token, you don't want to get screwed either. IF ONLY YOU AND THIS OTHER GUY are the total sum of people that contributed to the creation of the melody and lyrics (not the chords, not the "groove", not the bass line, not the fills, not the "drum part" JUST THE LYRICS AND MELODY) then I would apply for copyright in both your names and present it as a done deal. That way nobody gets screwed.

    If you can do that, you may need signatures of both. Otherwise me and Michael would have written a bunch of ****...