The Copyright Conundrum

Imagine you have several novels on Amazon. One day you open YouTube or TikTok, and you find someone reading chapters of your books. Each video has thousands of views, and the reader is earning money from your stories. A blatant violation of copyright law. What would you do? Contact them and tell them to remove the videos?

Now suppose that when the copyright violator posted videos, your books got a huge boost in sales. Would you feel the same way about the copyright violations?

This is the situation most musicians have found themselves in. Anyone can create a cover (their own version) of someone’s song and post it. In the early days of YouTube, record companies went after the copyright violators and told them to remove the videos (covers.) But eventually, it became a pointless game of whack-a-mole. Then an unexpected thing happened. The covers brought new fans to the original artist. And everyone made more money.

Artists recognized the benefits of fans covering their songs. James Taylor goes as far as to post links to covers of his songs on his social media sites.

TikTok recently introduced a Duets feature where you can sing (play an instrument, make faces, whatever) along with a video and post it on your page. You can duet with Richard Marx or Jackson Browne right now. And more famous musicians are jumping on the trend. Instead of fighting covers, artists are encouraging them and even taking part in them. I find this interactiveness with fans smart.

Of course, writers don’t have to deal with “cover” versions of their writing. Since writing is text, a “cover” would simply be copying. But there is fan fiction. How do you feel about that? They are using your characters.

What if writers decided to offer more interaction with their readers? What if there was a way for a famous writer to write the first chapter and then let a fan write the next chapter, another fan write the next, etc. Perhaps with the famous writer writing every tenth chapter based on what came before. Imagine the popularity of being a co-author with your favorite writer. I think it is a valid idea if done correctly.

The Question

How do you feel about this copyright conundrum? If someone posted chapters of your book on their website and it resulted in you selling twice as many books, would you tell them to remove the chapters? Or would you be thankful for the extra sold books?

My experience with copyright violations. (Read after you post your comments on the question above.)

Like it or not, anything posted online will be copied eventually. I have had stories copied and reposted. At least twice, I had my entire Medium website worth of stories (hundreds) scraped and posted on a foreign website. You can’t effectively go after foreign websites. Many have tried. If they get enough pressure, they simply shut down and start a new website doing the same thing. It’s whack-a-mole again.

I know one writer who literally quit writing because they were so devastated that someone copied their stories. Then they spent an incredible amount of time and effort trying to get the copies removed. They no longer write. How sad.

I have also had music I wrote copied and posted elsewhere.

Personally, I chose to ignore copyright violations and spend my time creating something new. I feel life is too short to waste time on unethical people or those ignorant of copyright law.

An interesting note on copyright law and music covers.

Music publishing is far more confusing than book publishing.

If I decide to make a CD of cover songs, I do not have to seek permission from the original artists. I simply have to pay a royalty (for each copy of the CD sold) to the publishing company that holds the publishing rights for each song. Depending on their record deal, the artist may not get anything.

If an artist doesn’t own the songwriter/composer publishing rights to their own songs (the record company or a publishing house might), they only get paid when they sell a copy of their original CD/vinyl/streaming/etc.

Famously, Paul McCartney and John Lennon tried to buy the publishing rights to The Beatles’ music in 1969 but were outbid by ATV Music. In The 1980s the catalog became available again, but as McCartney was negotiating with the surviving Beatles and Yoko Ono to buy the catalog, his soon-to-be former pal, Michael Jackson bought the rights (later sold to Sony.) McCartney only recently brokered a deal with Sony (via a lawsuit) to own the rights to the Beatles songs he penned. The John Lennon penned songs will still be owned by Sony until 2050 (per a deal with Yoko Ono.)

Many top “legacy” artists are selling off all their rights for hundreds of millions of dollars. Which is smart, in my opinion, since that is more than they are likely to earn in their lifetime. And they can still earn money touring.

The music business is crazy!