Why were my arrangements/transcriptions taken down? Quick overview of Copyright Laws

Jul 6, 2019

Hi guys,

I wanted to take the time to clarify what copyright laws entail for many transcribers and arrangers here on this platform, as many seem frustrated on the matter in recent days. Copyright laws are a very important issue to consider, but due to Musescore's relatively small presence, they haven't impacted the community very much until recently. These same rules also apply to your cover arts in your scores, and some soundfonts (noncommercial).

I gave credit and said this was not my original work. Why are my scores being taken down?

While Musescore is relatively small compared to other platforms such as Youtube (where copyright is a very big (and still ongoing) issue, many of which is  regarding false claims), its arrangements and transcriptions have been noticed by companies who own the rights to these scores[1]. I note in passing that unless otherwise explicitly noted in the scores or works, it is implied that all rights are always reserved, and thus even though it may not be written down explicitly in the work, its legal significance is nonetheless in effect (that also means you don’t have to go around writing all rights reserved in your scores). This took effect in Article 4 of the 1908 revision of the Berne convention, which initiated the use of “all rights reserved” [2]. This also means that copyright symbols hold no legal significance. Furthermore, your work is automatically protected the minute it is finished[3].

These mean that, unless the virtue of your work falls within Fair Use[4], you are liable to have your work taken down by the copyright holders despite whatever precautions you may have taken such as pointing out that this is not your original work, or crediting the original composers, etc., or intentions you may have had, unless the original work was declared to be royalty free/public domain/CC0, or has some other creative commons license that allows you to use the work in limited ways. 

But before you assure yourself that you are protected under Fair Use for “transformative use”, it is important to note that musical arrangements are “derivative works”, and thus require consent of the original copyright holder to have your work be copyrighted, under Circular 14, “Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations” U.S. Copyright Office” [5]. Further arguments you may make on where your work lies between transformative and derivative is up to the court to weigh in on, if you decide to take it that far.

Musescore is working on attaining copyright licenses from major publishers for your benefit[1]:

Though we have entered into agreements with hundreds of publishers and right holders, and are actively working to cover as many works as possible, there are some works or collections that might take more time to appropriately license.

Do not assume Musescore already has (or should have) the copyrights secured for your arrangements: per section 7 of their terms,  
If you are a Registered User, you represent and agree that any use by you of such features, including any User Generated Content or links submitted or posted by you, shall be your sole responsibility, shall not infringe or violate the rights of any other party or violate any laws,  contribute to or encourage infringing or otherwise unlawful conduct, or  otherwise be obscene, objectionable or in poor taste, and that you have  obtained all necessary rights, licenses or clearances. 

It is not their obligation, but rather a (very huge) privilege, for Musescore to attain these copyright licenses. It is important to realize that whatever you publish here officially (and implicitly) declares copyright, which I have already mentioned that you do not have the power to retain for derivative works unless you obtain explicit permission from the original owners of the copyright (not necessarily the original composers, for their works may be the property of the company for whom the works were made for under contract). 

Unfortunately, transcriptions have less of a leeway for obvious reasons. 

These same laws (and exemptions) apply to the cover arts you guys use in your scores.

It is perhaps to be noted that these restrictions are partly due to the print-nature of the arrangements being published here, for pure-audio recordings (that is, no pic-audio synchronization, which requires synch license) the rules are much more lenient[6].

How come other peoples’ works have not been taken down?

Copyright infringements fall under both civil and criminal cases; however, unless your infringement was serious such as attempting to monetize the arrangement or transcription (17 U.S.C. § 506(a) [7]), most cases fall under the civil side. Therefore, companies would have to manually take action in order to deal with copyright infringements. Responses simply differ across companies accordingly, and many do not take these infringements from arrangements and transcriptions very seriously, as long as there isn’t a large fiscal loss from the act. But of course the copyright owner may file a DMCA notice anytime they wish to do so, and thus your arrangements are liable to be taken down whenever the rights owners desire to. 

I understand that many of us enjoy listening and creating arrangements and transcriptions out of goodwill. However, the repercussions due to copyright can be  pretty detrimental, both legally and having a work you put lots of work and time into be taken down. Basically, just be aware and careful of these things when you decide to publish transcriptions, arrangements, or even monetize scores or works with cover images that you may have pulled from google. As you guys become larger figures in the music world, you must acclimate yourself to these laws, as they work for the protection of your works as well.  :) 

now that the legal aspects are addressed

i thought i'd post this not to discourage arrangements and transcriptions, but to prevent you from unintentionally landing yourself in hot water by, say, accidentally monetizing your arrangements or transcriptions, which is grounds for a criminal case.

it's honestly very rare that arrangements, covers, or transcriptions are taken down. over the years (in any platform) most of the requests seem to have come from large american media corporations such as disney or warner bros. as for covers of songs or vgm, anime, you won't have much to worry about :). many companies do realize the good intentions behind these covers and arrangements (some even promote them!). just don't be surprised when they do request that you take it down though, as it is their legal prerogative to do so. and be very careful in what you do w. your arrangements and transcriptions!


[1]: https://musescore.com/groups/improving-musescore-com/discuss/5043152#comment-5091508 
[2]: https://www.wipo.int/copyright/en/activities/copyright_registration/
[3]: https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#register 
[4]: https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html 
[5]: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ14.pdf 
[6]: http://ostrowesq.com/no-you-dont-own-your-arrangement-of-that-hit-song/
[7]: https://www.justice.gov/jm/criminal-resource-manual-1847-criminal-copyright-infringement-17-usc-506a-and-18-usc-2319