I am a freelancer as a music transcriber/arranger. Most of my work involves original material. But recently I've gotten a lot of requests from cover bands who can't find the sheet music for the rock/pop songs they want to perform, and so they want me to transcribe the songs for them.
If I understand correctly, transcribing these copyrighted rock songs and selling my sheet music for performance is illegal. However, if the band is performing it to begin with, it is possible they have the rights to the songs, correct? So, my question: is there a type of contract I could make, prior to completing the task, that puts all legal responsibility for this onto the customers? Since they are directly hiring me to do this? (Keeping in mind that it wouldn't be a derivative work; it would be a replica.)
So, you are asking if you can form a contract with A to allow you to infringe upon B's copyright. No. Even if they have the right to perform the music this does not mean they have the right to copy the score. I also question why they can't find the sheet music. There are tons of play books out there, and I am certain the ASCAP and BMI can assist.
Sounds like these cover bands want to purchase music cheaply without paying for the royalties. So, no the contract can't relieve you of liability for Copyright infringement. A hold harmless, can protect you to a certain extent, if the Band's had the money to pay to protect and indemnify you. Stay safe, only transcribe origional or open source music. If you have further concerns contact an experienced copyright attorney to counsel you.
Mr. Sack's postings on Avvo are of a general nature, based on the facts provided and are not intended to be taken as legal advice or to establish an attorney-client relationship.
Transcribing someone else's registered copyright is an infringement per second and if you charge for it you eliminate any defenses that you might qualify for if you met the fair use defense criteria. You can't infringe a copyright and assign the liability. Don't do it.
You received some good insights. If I understand correctly, however, one of the issues is that while the band requires a performance license to play another's music, which can be obtained from rights groups, ASCAP, BMI, etc. you would require a print license to produce the sheet music then sell that to the band. This license needs to be negotiated directly from the copyright holder or their agent.
So even if you have the band sign an indemnification holding you harmless and promising to defend, this might not do any good if they have no resources to cover for that as the copyright holder can certainly come at you directly.
I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC on the basis of this posting.
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