Dj's and Copyright??

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  • I have a question regarding a DJ at a club or bar.

    I know it is illegal for an average person to buy a CD and then play that CD in a public place for money.

    Just as it is illegal to charge people admission to come watch a movie at your house. Or start a movie theatre that plays DVDs.

    I believe they call it "Exhibition" in the FBI warning on the CDs and DVDs we buy. If I understand the law correctly as a consumer you own a license to view/listen to the copyright material privately but not to display it publicly. I also know that unless its a very small portion of the copyright material (and even then its iffy) you cannot use an artists copyright protected song to create your own song (with the possibly fair use exception of parody, criticism, etc) to put it another way I could not record myself singing over the top of Paul McCartny in The Beatles recording of "Yellow Submarine" and sell it as my own song.

    As a band I can't even perform, record and sell my own version of that song without written permission from the original copyright holder. In fact if an artist really wanted (and could prove it causes them harm) they could sue my independent band for simply covering their song at a live show. I know because I've made a point of paying for the privilege to play certain songs live. Furthermore Rappers and HipHop artists even have to get permission to "sample" other peoples music in their songs when they wish to do so.

    My question is how do DJs get away with taking an artists copyright work, not just a piece of it, the entire song, in most cases entire ALBUMS of the actual copy protected recordings, screw them all up by altering it, adding loops and samples from other copy protected material and then call it their own "mix" and get away with it? They can't possibly claim fair use due to the fact that they CHARGE admission for people to get in and listen to these "new" mixes, as well as the original unaltered versions of the songs.

    So even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and assume these DJs are buying thousands of CDs or buying thousands of songs from iTunes and legally transfering them to their iPod/laptop (yeah right) they're still performing these copywritten pieces of work in a public place and profiting from it. Both actions being completely against federal copyright law (at least as I understand it maybe I'm wrong) on top of that they then take the original artists copywritten work of art and destroy it by adding redundant loops, sound effects and mixing it with other (also copywritten) pieces of art before adding one final smack in the face by calling it their own creation.

    Meanwhile 12 year old girls downloading MP3s get arrested and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Is there a special loophole or exception to the law for DJs that bands don't have? Or does the RIAA simply ignore the blatant disregard and abuse of artists copyright being perpetuated by DJs? Because as a band member I would sure love to be able to play other peoples music at our shows or do a new "mix" of the song featuring my band on one of our albums. And if there is no such loophole why do they go after consumers, while "DJ Tard" profits personally and financially off the work of true artists?

    It really doesn't make any sense if you think about it. DJ's hurt record/ticket sales way more than downloads ever could. DJ's distract and degrade from the artists actual performances and original work by creating an alternative place to listen to their music for less. Why buy a ticket to a show or even a CD when you can hear that song at the club? DJ's violate the artists intellectual property as well as alter the artists work without permission. This is tantamount to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. (Though I admit not as culturally or historically important)

    The DJ's then STEAL the artists material by calling the new "mix" their own despite the fact that without the original copyright material the new mix would not exist because the DJ didn't actually CREATE anything. He simply distorted an already existing product. Now I have heard arguments that by "Mixing" the DJ created a new piece of music that is soooo different it no longer resembles the original copywritten material is thus no longer copywritten. But if that were true nobody would know or be able to tell what song he had remixed and there would be no issue. After all a "Killers" song with an house beat is still a "Killers" song.

    And worst of all DJ's take venues away from touring bands. Bars and clubs book DJs instead of live music because its easier (in some cases) cheaper and if the crowd doesn't like whats being played the DJ can just select a different pirated album. The downside is of course less places for independent music to flourish means less chances for independent bands to grow and eventually be discovered. Leading to a stalemate in the industry (as we are currently experiencing) and reduced record sales due to poor quality of music being released.

    So whats the deal? Legally speaking how do they get away with this? And if it is 100% illegal how do I go about reporting DJ's to the feds?
  • Clubs and bars that employ dj's usually pay ascap fees just like radio stations, which covers most of the popular music from major labels.

    However, most dance music labels produce music specifically for dj's to play at clubs and club-style events, so they aren't seeking royalties from the dj's because the dj's are the only way that any of their music gets heard.

    Labels send out singles and promos to dj's to play in clubs and on the radio so that they can build awareness and hype for their upcoming releases.

    If dj's couldn't play promotional records, then record sales would be extremely slow and all sales would have to spread by word of mouth AFTER a release date.
  • The ASCAP fees for playing the original music makes sense. But I don't see how that allows a DJ to make Frankenstein mixes of lets say rock songs and call them their own. That to me is the worst form of musical theft possible.


    12. Aren't musicians, entertainers and DJ's responsible for obtaining permission for music they perform?

    Some people mistakenly assume that musicians and entertainers must obtain licenses to perform copyrighted music or that businesses where music is performed can shift their responsibility to musicians or entertainers. The law says all who participate in, or are responsible for, performances of music are legally responsible. Since it is the business owner who obtains the ultimate benefit from the performance, it is the business owner who obtains the license. Music license fees are one of the many costs of doing business.[/quote]
    So if I am reading this correctly since the business (club, venue, etc) is the ultimate beneficiaries of a musical performance be it live or pre-recorded they are ultimately responsible for obtaining the ASCAP License and not the performers of said music. Which means Bands should also be allowed to cover songs without obtaining permission from the music publisher as long as the venue has paid their ASCAP dues.
  • I think you are talking about several different issues and how they combine -- the law, social practice, litigation strategy, and economics. And ASCAP fees have already been discussed.

    I'll start with the easiest combination of these issues that you mentioned, cover songs. Once a song is recorded the first time, anyone can make a cover version WITHOUT asking for permission. That is why there are so many versions of Yesterday by the Beatles. For more information on how payment for these compulsory licenses works check out the Copyright Office FAQ:

    Next sampling (taking small portions of previously recorded songs and incorporating them into new compositions): Many have argued that sampling should be considered fair use, after all, it is similar to quoting a short passage. The case law varies in this area, with one major case stating that sampling is not fair use (first case discussed here at , and another stating it is (

    About DJs: The relationship between DJs, artists, and the recording industry is quite complex, and copyright is hardly the most important component of this relationship. Arguably, when DJs spin, they often create unlicensed derivative works, however, they are also creating something ephemeral (only lasting as long as the note does) and that the newly created works are highly creative.
    The most skilled DJs -- those that create on the fly, those that create mashups, do use a great deal of creativity, using upwards of elements from ten different songs simultaneously.
  • I will add that even though, as Drewbie noted, DJs are often an integral part of music marketing, they have not been immune from legal troubles. For an example, see this New York Times article from January about the arrest of DJ Drama: DJ Drama was instrumental in building the careers of numerous rappers, and in boosting the sales of their studio albums, but the RIAA and the police arrested him anyway.

    That said, calling the cops every time you see a DJ or a mixtape is not going to get you very far, nor will it win you many friends in the music industry.

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