When someone creates a piece of music (or a piece of text, a graphic, a photo, a film or anything else that is protected under copyright laws), there is a whole system of legal rights and obligations that comes into play. These rights and obligations outline what someone can and can’t do with the material.
Who owns the copyright in a piece of music?
There is generally more than one owner of copyright in any given karaoke track. The composer and lyricist who wrote the tune and lyrics respectively own copyright in the musical works – even if their original voices or recording are not used. In addition, the maker of the recording (typically the karaoke manufacturer) owns copyright in the sound recording or backing tracks.
What rights do the copyright owners have?
The copyright owners separately (i.e., the owner of the work and the owner of the recording) have a number of exclusive rights, including the rights to:
- Make copies of the karaoke track;
- Perform the music in public (e.g., by playing the karaoke tracks); and
- Communicate the karaoke track to the public.
I am a manufacturer of karaoke discs, do I need any licences to make my discs?
Yes, as a manufacturer of karaoke discs you need to obtain a reproduction licence from
APRA I AMCOS, an organisation which represents music publishers and writers from around the world. The reproduction licence gives you the right to copy the tune and lyrics necessary for making your karaoke discs.
Can I buy karaoke discs from overseas?
Yes, you can buy karaoke discs that are legitimately made in the country of origin, however, as an importer the onus is upon you to prove the discs are legitimate.
I bought some legitimate karaoke discs. Can I make copies of these?
The purchase of a karaoke disc, whether in CDG, CDGM, VCD or DVD format, only gives you the right to own the physical disc, to play it privately and to pass on the same physical disc to another person. This means that copying the music, including onto your computer without the permission of all relevant copyright owners, is an infringement of copyright except in very limited circumstances. The Copyright Act allows you to “format shift” music for personal use only. To be clear, this does not extend to commercial music used by a KJ.
If you want to “back up” your original karaoke discs into a more convenient format or copy them onto your computer, you must get:
- permission or a licence from the manufacturer of the karaoke discs; and
- a licence from AMCOS for the reproduction of the music. Generally AMCOS will offer a “blanket” licence which allows you to be covered for all reproduction of musical and literary works for certain purposes.
Can I buy a computer with pre-loaded karaoke music?
Unless the seller of the computer obtained the permission of the relevant copyright owners, it is likely that your computer contains unauthorised copies of karaoke tracks for which you can be held criminally or civilly liable.
Do I need to register under the Music Rights Australia Karaoke Code of Conduct?
The Karaoke Code of Conduct requires karaoke operators to register their devices under the
Code. Once you have registered under the Code of Conduct you will be issued with a Registration Number for each karaoke device that you operate. If you do not register under the Code of Conduct, your licensed karaoke content supplier will no longer be able to provide you with karaoke music. Registering under the Code is also in your interest as it helps show that you are using legitimate music, a question that many venues are increasingly asking.
Can I copy karaoke music from the internet and use it for my karaoke gigs?
The basic principle is that you cannot copy or distribute music including from the internet without the permission of all relevant copyright owners. If you are unsure whether the website is appropriately licensed, you can contact AMCOS and seek their advice.
What about using music obtained by file sharing?
Unless authorised, the vast bulk of P2P ‘file sharing’ is considered unauthorised copying and transmission of copyright material. This activity hurts sales of music and the livelihoods of people in the business.
What if I download music to use for my karaoke gigs from a site from overseas where the law might be different?
Internet activities of this sort typically involve acts of copying, transmission, or distribution in both the ‘receiving and sending’ countries and laws of each will apply. Be aware that if you download music files to your PC located in Australia, without the copyright owners’ permission, you are committing an infringement of copyright under Australian law.
What are the consequences of using infringing karaoke discs?
Under the Copyright Act, infringement of copyright by unauthorised copying (including over the internet), selling, distributing, importing, performing or having in your possession illegal karaoke discs, attracts maximum penalties of $60,500 or 5 years imprisonment for each track infringed.
Do I need any licences to play legitimately purchased karaoke discs at a pub?
Yes, generally the venue (for example, the club, hotel, nightclub, restaurant or similar venue) needs a public performance licence from APRA in order to allow you to play the karaoke music. However, in circumstances where you are playing karaoke at a venue that would not ordinarily require a licence, you may need to get a public performance licence from APRA in your own right. If you are using music between sets then you may need additional licences from APRA and the PPCA (or the relevant copyright owner).
I own a bar. Can I be responsible if the KJ is using illegitimate karaoke discs?
As the owner or operator of premises you may be held liable for authorising copyright infringement at your premises by allowing the KJ to use pirate karaoke discs or MP3 files.
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