BCM 113

Legal Explainer

The purpose of this blog post was to help me to further my knowledge surrounding issues of copyright and plagiarism as part of my BCM113 studies by conducting a close study of two real life cases that I think are relevant to my discipline of communications and media.

In 2016 the World Intellectual Property Organization published a booklet entitled “Understanding Copyright and Related Rights” which explains the generally accepted basic copyright principles for all members of the United Nations. It states that ‘Copyright’ translates into ‘author’s rights’ in many other languages because it is the creator of the work and the ‘author’ of written works holds the right to reproduce their outputs. The word ‘copyright’ in English refers to that act itself – the ‘right’ to ‘copy’ something you have created. As the holder of that right, you have the legal power to license others to do so as well. It is agreed upon in most nations that as an individual you have a right to the exclusive use of your literary or artistic work the instant you create it – without the need for any kind of registration of the work as your own. You can use it in any way you like – as long as you do not break other laws in the process – and also have to exclusive right to authorise others to use it and to charge them for that use. You can prohibit or authorise the reproduction of your work in a range of formats, the distribution of copies of your work, its public performance, its broadcast or communication to the public in other way, its translation into another language or its adaptation form one format to another. An important difference between countries’ copyright laws is duration. Under international conventions, your communication outputs will remain in copyright until at least 50 years after your death, although that is exactly half a century more than should worry you. But some countries – including the United States and Australia, as well as all nations in the European Union – have extended this term to 70 years after the death of the creator. 

LeBron James sued over a copyright infringement lawsuit in a U.S District Court 

LeBron James who is an American professional basketball player for Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA got sued by the NBA professional photographer. Lebron James used and cropped of himself throwing down a dunk over Miami Heat centre Meyers Leonard which taken by the Steve Mitchell who is the seasoned photojournalist who was working as an NBA professional photographer when the Lakers’ against the Heat game on the 13th of December in 2019.  After the game, Lebron James posted the photos on his social media platform and attracted more than 2,000,000 likes and more than 10,000 comments. In the case, Mitchell is seeking the damages that “would reflect profits, incomes, receipts and other benefits derived by James and his co-defendants or, in the alternative, damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.” 

The target audience for this legal explainer directly applies to celebrities and other high-profile individuals. Despite being public figures who constantly have media and fans taking photos of them, they still have to be aware of media ownership for the photographs they share with their social media followers, including where they source the photo from and how they consequently use the photos. This explainer can also be applied more conceptually to the main general public of most developed societies. All internet users and accessors must pay attention and raise awareness about correct social media use and how to responsibly credit other creators and in a similar light to Lebron’s copyright case individuals must respect the ownership of photographs as well as the rights of people being used in such photos, this can be managed by asking for peoples permission before taking photo of them. 

The reason why I choose this particular case of copyright explainer is because I am a huge fan of basketball and LeBron James is my favourite player. As a fan of LeBron James, I follow his celebrity activities through social media and other news sources which enabled me to discover this particular copyright case. After reading the news headlines I immediately wanted to know more details about the case that he had been served and what actions Lebron to instigate it in the first place to violate any laws and how the case progressed. 

Copyright and plagiarism are similar in several aspects and can often be mistaken for one another, however, the two are distinctly different. Copyright infringement is the act of using someone else’s work without obtaining their permission and the Plagiarism is claiming attribution for a work you did not author or using someone else’s work without proper authority.

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams (two A-lister music artists) sued for allegedly copying a Marvin Gaye song to create their 2013 smash ‘Blurred Lines’

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ song ‘Blurred Lines’ was a Billboard charts summer hit, but many listeners drew comparisons to late Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got To Give It Up”. Through 5 years of court battles Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay $5 million to the family of Gaye as well as being entitled to 50 per cent of the songwriter and publishing revenue. 

This explainer concerns everyone because it can help to raise awareness about creative ownership, for example the ownership of music and other forms of artistic expression (e.g. artworks, films and designs) and can help people to understand what factors determines whether something is considered to be plagiarised in the music industry and as an artist how you need to be conscious of these issues.

This case about “Blurred Lines” did not create any major legal shift, but instead a shift in perception because similar lawsuits in the music industry usually have low chances of ever succeeding. Gaye’s team themselves did not look like they had a real chance of winning but in doing so helped to change the perceptions for future law cases in this field. After winnthe case Gaye’s family claimed it was a “victory for the rights of all musicians… (a) wonderful recognition of Marvin’s creativity and the lasting value of one of his greatest songs”. It may help to encourage artists who believe their works have been plagiarised to come forward and fight for their artistic rights. It is true that legal disputes over songwriter credit and song theft rarely make it before judges because parties usually prefer to settle things more quietly and confidentially. This case received a lot of media attention and will make other composers think more carefully about their influences and the severity at which these cases can rise to.

I choose this particular case to illustrate a real-world plagiarism case because music is one of my greatest passions and hobbies, both listening to and creating my own. Thus, I have a high respect for all the creative workers who contribute to the creation of musical compositions such as song writers, producers and singers. I wish that all musical works can be published to the world in a fair, equitable and serious way, not through unfair means where people may record music illegally and post it online or take ownership for ideas that do not belong to them. By choosing this case for further study I have piqued my interests and enabled the combination of researching my passions and my studies.

The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law by Mark Pearson P.331

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