The copyright conundrum — and how to deal with it

5 min read

Who owns what by whom?

The equivalent of all the content in the New York Public Library has probably been published over the past couple of centuries in an attempt to contain and clarify the complexities of copyright.

Of course, much of the documentation and associated case histories have been recorded for posterity to protect the creators of works that are copyrightable.

If you’re a producer who’s less acquainted with the ins and outs of copyright, navigating it can have you in turbulent waters if you’re not careful.  Although copyright and its implications cut a wide swath, we’ll narrow the focus down to the ambit of the voice over industry and the impact associated copyright matters may have on your business and voice over projects.

Remember that no matter who the actor is you’ve chosen to voice your script, the country he or she lives in, the region of the world in which that country is situated, or the language/s involved, rights are rights and intellectual property is property even though the laws in some countries may be more lax than in others.

To be safe, the long and short of it is that creative content will belong to whoever created it or until its creator has contractually transferred all rights to you so you can prove you’re the copyright owner.

Perhaps the best way to explain what you can or can’t do with intellectual property is to compare it with tangible property. If you own a car, for example, someone else can’t just come along, take it from you, and drive around in it without your permission and due authority. The same principle applies to copyrighted material; you’re not allowed to use it, copy it, sell it, publish it on a website, or broadcast it without the owner’s permission. All rights are reserved and belong to the holder of the copyright.

From Voice123’s perspective, understanding copyright and all the essential legalities involved will afford you the opportunity of building lasting relationships with all the creatives who help you build your business over time.

Value and values

The interwebs and plethora of social media platforms are powerful weapons in the hands of those who feel they’ve been wronged.  Nowadays, consistently poor reviews can destroy a movie at the box-office in less than a week. By the same token, platforms that treat their subscribers and members badly may find themselves out of business quicker than a wink.

We’ve found that in many instances, new businesses are inclined to neglect the legal aspects of their operations because there are so many other issues to worry about.

Our advice is: don’t.
Despite the initial expense, investing in good legal advice will be of great benefit to you by saving you time, money and protecting your reputation going forward. Running a business is about building relationships, not finding loopholes. While loopholes may bring short-term gains, they’re definitely not good business practice. Particularly in a business associated with the voice over industry, nothing beats solid, long-term relationships with vendors. People talk. The best thing you can do for your business is to have them say nice things about it. Integrity and transparency rule.

So what are intellectual property rights exactly? claims intellectual property is:

The ownership of ideas. Unlike tangible assets to your business such as computers or your office, intellectual property is a collection of ideas and concepts., provides a bit more detail:

Documented or undocumented knowledge, creative ideas, or expressions of the human mind that have commercial (monetary) value and are protectable under copyright, patent, service mark, trademark, or trade secret laws from imitation, infringement, and dilution. Intellectual property includes brand names, discoveries, formulas, inventions, know-how, registered designs, software, and works of artistic, literary, or musical nature. It is one of the most readily-traded properties in the digital marketplace.

Interestingly, the ‘digital marketplace’ is the very reason why copyright infringement is currently such an emotive topic; piracy is rampant because the ‘Net has made it so easy to share and download someone else’s work without paying for it. More on that later.

Most voice actors today are fairly well-versed in what’s involved regarding the transfer of rights vested in their voice-recording to you as the client they made the recording for. Having a frank and fruitful discussion about fees and costs upfront is one of the surest ways of avoiding any potential issues in the future.

What’s imperative is that you make it very clear to the actor what his or her voice-recording is going to be used for.

The Global Voice Acting Academy has published a rate guide that’s regularly updated and has come to be seen as something of a gold standard when it comes to determining fees or, at the very least, a starting point for negotiation. All the different types of usage are also clearly detailed and specified.

While some voice-casting platforms have made the copyright conundrum a non-issue by having the transfer of all intellectual property rights included as part of the agreement they have with the actors on their roster, Voice123 has not. Our approach is one of facilitator only; all negotiations are strictly between the clients and voice actors themselves.

Why is copyright becoming more and more complicated?

As we mentioned above, the Internet has changed everything. Online video-sharing platforms such as YouTube and torrenting sites like the now defunct Pirate Bay and are frequently under siege by copyright owners for violating intellectual property rights. Many composers and songwriters are complaining that music has become practically worthless because consumers are simply no longer prepared to pay for their output. Why pay when you can so easily download them for free? Apple’s iTunes and music streaming services like Spotify have completely changed the way human beings interact with music, even though both platforms are above board when compared to countless others.

Most of the pro voice actors we’ve spoken with are extremely sensitive about having their work on YouTube. A commercial copyright lawyer we contacted as a result had this to say: “More often than not, publication on YouTube turns into an ‘in perpetuity buyout’ which is the worst possible situation for a creative to be in. It basically means they get paid a once-off fee and never again no matter how long the video is available to watch on the platform. Uploaders rarely pull a video once it’s there even if they promise it’s only for three, six, or twelve months, so it just stays there forever. There are companies that police online platforms but their services are often too costly — especially for non-unionists, long-term. Many agency producers and executive producers are now finding themselves fighting a similar battle with their clients. YouTube and Instagram can be a nightmare. I get the ‘who-owns-what-and-for-how-long’ questions all the time. And there’s no easy answer.”

The Internet has certainly knocked copyright into a constant state of flux. There’s been an explosion in content and content creation. Copyright trolls are keeping vigilant eyes on everything and instituting legal proceedings at the drop of a hat. Legal practitioners around the globe — as well as governments, for that matter — are trying to formulate and reformulate legislation with each new challenge to the status quo.

While those involved purport to be motivated by fairness to all parties, heated debates continue to rage in both the European Union and the United States. Currently, what the outcome will be is anyone’s guess and content censorship as well as the freedom of the internet are the subjects of animated conversations at many a dinner table.

Celebrity soundalikes

Interestingly, the copyright lawyer also told us that he’s had an unexpected number of cases brought to him involving celebrity soundalikes. “Please note that making use of celebrity-voice soundalikes to read your script can plunge you into the middle of a perfect storm — especially if the imitator is making it sound as though that celebrity is endorsing a product or service. An obvious parody or send-up will probably be fine, but an impersonation that misleads the listener into believing he’s hearing the actual celebrity’s voice will allow such a celebrity to take legal action due to what is termed an appropriation of personality. Even if you can argue that your intent was not to mislead, be very, very cautious!”

(If you have any concerns about intellectual property rights, contracts, and intellectual property rights violations, your safest bet is to contact someone in the legal profession who specializes in copyright. Prevention is always better than cure!)

To do or not to do the right thing

“Truth be told,” the copyright lawyer shrugged in closing, “there are countless numbers of people across the world who commit copyright violations every day — but however well-argued the point or the purpose of the theft may be, it’s still theft. Fact is that the creator or owner of the work is being denied his rightful income from it. I’ve dealt with a lot of transgressors and I’ve had some of them put out of business. I find their approach — to commit a violation full knowing that they have and then rectifying the situation as soon as they get caught — despicable. My advice to anyone asking about copyright and whether or not they should try to pull a fast one, is: do the right thing, and the right thing is to pay the copyright holder fair and square. That way you’ll spare yourself a heap of hassle and sometimes substantial damage to your business’s reputation.”

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