June 1, 2021 Musicology No Comments

An email from an artist scared to put their own work out into the world for fear it would be copied, plagiarized, infringed upon, otherwise ripped off:

“I’m a producer and songwriter. I’d love to show my stuff to producers and artists, but I’m afraid they’ll steal it. Should I send it anyway?”

With all the infringement cases in the news, I get it, but that would be so sad. I mean, of course, we can’t entirely prevent the possibility. There’s always going to be that risk, but you gotta live your life. Just leaving the house carries with it “some” risk; nothing ventured, nothing gained. It’d be a shame if we didn’t get to pursue our dreams because we’re afraid someone’s going to commit a crime. No way. Infringement is a crime, and crimes aren’t allowed, so we’re not helpless and we shouldn’t have to compromise.

So I thought I’d make a quick post on the matter rather than just respond to the email. The question comes in different forms but in various forms, it gets asked enough. And sadly, lots of cases roll in where some basic advice like this would’ve been invaluable. I have, many times, had to say something like, “I’m sorry but there may not be much you can do. You have nothing more than your story about how you played your song in front of a lot of people and one of them went off and made a hit record that sounds just like it.”

So to “Scared someone will steal my song,” this is my basic advice.

While plagiarism comes in lots of flavors — intentional, unintentional, careless, indifferent, oblivious, stupid, (I should perhaps be linking each of those to a relevant example) whatever, proving that it occurred is pretty much the same across all of them.

And it goes a little something like this: 

  1. Here’s my work.
  2. Here’s how I can demonstrate that I created it and committed it to fixed form on this date, which is prior to the date that they created theirs.  
  3. Here’s theirs, significantly the same as mine.
  4. Here’s how they heard mine before they made theirs.

Most inquiries, my first responses are centered around, “Can you show me those four things?”

So to the nice person who wrote to say they’re reluctant to put their work out, I would recommend going bravely forth, but conduct yourself in such a way that you would always be able to demonstrate that your work is your work. Having your project files is good. A published youtube video, Apple Music, Spotify, or any of the many forms of timestamped internet publishing, good. And copyright registration is both good and if you want to file a lawsuit, technically necessary.

You can’t prevent the possibility of copying, but if it happens, you’ll have recourse if you have those things. Cross that bridge when you come to it. In the meantime, do your thing.

Written by Brian McBrearty