In Bb…Who Owns It?

Recently I was hipped to another awesome interactive composition project (the last one I wrote about here), this great collaborative effort conceived/composed by Darren Solomen. Check it out.

Basically, people submitted YouTube videos of them noodling around in various capacities in Bb major. You can play the videos in any order and for any length of time, and it all works beautifully. The concept borrows heavily from Terry Riley, of course, but it’s been updated and integrated into Web 2.0 for the YouTube generation. It’s a great fun to listen to (or should I say…conduct to?), and equally as fun to noodle around on your own instrument to.

Which is precisely what I did…

I triggered the samples in real time and noodled some chords and basslines and stuff in and around it. Fun stuff. The question, though, is did I write the music for that video?

And if I did, can I make money off of it?

I recently became a YouTube partner, which means that I now have access to some of the ad revenue for ads placed on my videos. This is likely not going to be much considering how relatively few people watch my videos, but any amount of miscellaneous income as a freelance musician is welcome. When submitting my videos for revue for ad sharing, it’s imperative that I own and can prove I own the copyright and distribution rights for those videos otherwise YouTube will deny the claim and likely delete the video.

If I were to submit this video for ad sharing, what legal claim could I have that I wrote this music? Is it Darren Solomen’s? Likely not. He did not physically write, record or perform any of the music in the original in B flat videos, nor did he arrange the original videos in the order that I performed them in the video. I would think that he could be likened (in a court of law, at any rate) to the guy that sets up the sampler library in Garage Band. Is the music, then, the individual musicians who recorded the pieces of music? Closer to the truth, I think, but I was the one who arranged how the samples were triggered, and I was the one who gave “cohesion” to the samples by improvising my own part on the bass.

Of course, this legal speculation is wildly unfair. There is no legal opinion yet for something as nuanced as this. The best legal advice I have is from opinions written about sampling in hip hop, which is a completely different thing altogether. More importantly than the legal speculation, the idea that I could be making money off of the in B Flat project just by playing over the videos is somewhat off-putting to me. Considering how much time and careful aesthetic considerations go into recording my own original music, I would feel…cheapened by the fact that I’m making money off a piece of music conceived by somebody else and calling it my own simply by noodling a bass track over it. Yes, the concept isn’t the music, but for me, the concept/idea for the piece of music is the hard part. The execution comes from there. For this reason, I would never do it, but the question remains, do I own the music?

Besides, even if I wanted to enable the video for ad sharing, YouTube would never green-light it, no matter how carefully reasoned a response I gave. The second they smell controversy, they shut down whatever is causing it.

That’s a rant for another day.


2 Responses to “In Bb…Who Owns It?”

  1. 1 Emma May 14, 2010 at 2:58 am

    Here’s what I told you yesterday, and now I’ll repeat it for posterity:

    I think you “own” the music we hear in that video. Because the music we hear would not exist were it not for you “creating” it. That is, that exact piece of audio did not exist before.

    That being said, no, I don’t think you should go up against YouTube — cause yeah, making money off of a collaborative effort like that does seem a little icky.

    Yeah, I realize I didn’t really bring any new ideas to this conversation. You’re welcome.

  2. 2 catefneely May 14, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    What about composer/arrangers who use others’ melodies as springboards for their own creations? The team of Forrest and Wright wrote “musicals” based on orchestral works of the Russian Five and others, such as Kismet and Song of Norway, but they received royalties for their work.

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Welcome to Adam Neely's blog/website. Check out his compositions, links, and information about lessons on the top bar, and enjoy the music!

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