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Parody, Copyright, and Fair Use in Music


In a world of eight billion people and a music industry that is always looking for the next big thing, traits like individuality and originality are increasingly difficult to come by.

Recently, Australian singer-songwriter Lenka filed a copyright complaint against Filipina singer Shaira Moro’s viral song Selos. This has brought music copyright infringement into the spotlight in the Philippines, especially since Moro's "parody song" became popular on TikTok and shares similarities with Lenka’s Trouble is a Friend.

An artist's original music must be honored, and copyright infringement must face legal consequences. The Philippine music industry strongly supports the rights of music owners, including the fight against rampant music piracy.

Before any artist can use or cover any song, permission must be obtained from the song owner, whether it's the artist or a specific record label. This is not the first time Filipino artists have been in the spotlight regarding potential copyright infringement.

Every year, around 22 million songs are released by artists across various genres on numerous music and video platforms. Naturally, there will be instances where songs share similar notes and lyrics. However, there's a belief among some that certain artists directly plagiarize lyrics and melodies.

If the song is categorized as a parody, some leeway applies. A parody may fall under "Fair Use," which allows creating and sharing a copyrighted song without needing permission from the song owner. However, there are caveats.

Many jurisdictions permit the use of copyrighted material in parodies under the doctrine of "Fair Use" or "Fair Dealing." However, the parody must be transformative, meaning it adds new expression or meaning without damaging the original work's potential market. If the parody subjects the original song to undue ridicule or scrutiny, potentially harming it, then consent or permission will likely be denied by the song owner.

"Fair use" is considered a limitation to a copyright owner's exclusive rights. It refers to the use, whether authorized or not, of a copyrighted work that is allowed under certain circumstances, such as if there is no injurious effect on the potential market of the copyrighted work and the economic rights of the copyright owner.

Here in the Philippines, we have had our fair share of music copyright infringement and intellectual property cases.

The rock band Cueshe allegedly derived its songs from two foreign bands, namely Simple Plan and Silverchair. Some believe that Stay, released in 2005, allegedly borrowed the intro riff from Simple Plan's song Perfect, which was released in 2002, and partly from Silverchair's View, which, incidentally, was also released in 2002.

Social media has made it easier to check and verify possible song plagiarism. This is apparent in the case of the 1990 song Humanap ka ng Panget, which is accused of copying the American group Cash Money Marvelous' 1989 song Find an Ugly Woman. The alleged plagiarism occurred when the American song was translated into Filipino.

Many Filipinos remember the 2000 hit song by Orange and Lemons, Pinoy Ako, used by the TV reality show Pinoy Big Brother. The song became a certified earworm for many Filipinos who were glued to the program, as it was used relentlessly throughout its run. Netizens quickly point out that the song bears a striking similarity to the English New Wave band The Care's 1987 song, Chandeliers.

The US is no exception when it comes to music copyright infringement cases. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were sued for similarities between their 2013 song Blurred Lines and Marvin Gaye's 1977 song Got to Give It Up. Rock band Led Zeppelin faced allegations over similarities between their 1971 song Stairway to Heaven and the 1968 song Taurus by Spirit.

Whether these songs involve copyright infringement remains to be seen and is up to all concerned and involved parties to resolve. Is it a case of lifting, outright copying, or merely being inspired? Is it actually copyright infringement or fair use?

There are Filipino agencies that champion and uphold the rights of the music composer and music rights publisher, such as the Intellectual Property Office-Philippines (IPOPHL) and the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (FILSCAP).

IPOPHL values music intellectual property, including both music and lyrics, as valuable creative works deserving of protection under intellectual property laws. Music compositions and lyrics are considered original artistic expressions and are protected as musical and literary works, respectively.

IPOPHL recognizes the importance of safeguarding the rights of composers, lyricists, and music publishers to control the use, reproduction, distribution, and public performance of their creations. Through copyright registration and enforcement, IPOPHL aims to promote creativity, incentivize innovation, and ensure that creators receive fair compensation for their musical works. IPOPHL likewise provides assistance and resources to educate stakeholders about intellectual property rights and supports efforts to strengthen the music industry ecosystem in the Philippines.

FILSCAP, on the other hand, is a licensing collective management organization deputized to protect and collect fees for its music songwriter, artist, and music organization members. It protects the copyrighted works of its members and affiliates by issuing licenses and collecting royalty fees from anyone who publicly exhibits or performs music from FILSCAP's song repertoire.

Copyright infringement remains a significant challenge in the Philippine music industry, compounded by the widespread occurrence of music piracy in the digital age. As technology advances, the unauthorized distribution and sharing of copyrighted music have become increasingly rampant, depriving hardworking composers and music owners of their rightful earnings.

While efforts to combat piracy and enforce copyright laws continue, education and awareness about the importance of respecting intellectual property rights are crucial to fostering a fair and sustainable music industry ecosystem.
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