Maggie Knooihuizen, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2015 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: Paul and Derrick both went potluck and ended up as roommates their freshman year at Pepperdine. Paul sang for Pepperdine’s A cappella group and Derrick was an aspiring DJ. Paul agreed to record one of his original songs for Derrick to mix. After graduation, Derrick made it big with his mash-ups and performed in front of thousands. One morning, Paul heard the following on the radio: “Here’s the newest from DJ Derrick!” Paul was furious when he heard his voice being played over one of Derrick’s new tracks. If Paul sues Derrick for copyright infringement, who will win? Who should win?
Paul and Derrick may never share a dorm room or a pleasant conversation again after DJ Derrick used a recording of Paul’s voice for his mash-up that he performed in front of thousands. Although Paul was beyond aggravated when he heard, “Here’s the newest from DJ Derrick!” on the radio, he might have to get used to it.
Unfortunately, famous DJ Derrick is going to get away with being a shitty friend. Although most people can agree that stealing a song from an old college roommate and making a profit off it is wrong, DJ Derrick has technically not committed a crime under copyright laws. From what we have learned so far in our media law class, copyright infringement has many different elements to it.
Copyright infringement is described as the “use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works.” In the category of songs, the song’s copyright owner is usually entitled to payment when someone else covers the song.
Paul would not win a case against DJ Derrick because he never received copyright form his song. Yes, the song was originally Paul’s, but Derrick also tampered with it enough for him to deem it his own. A common defense for copyright infringement is “fair use,” which is when only a small portion of a song or creative work is fairly reproduced. The U.S. Supreme Court also held that “parody can also be fair use, in which case the parodist need not obtain permission or pay royalties to the original work’s copyright holder.” In a court of law, I think that Derrick and Paul’s case would fall under this category.
Maggie is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Public Relations.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.