Copyright law: Can a sound be subject to trademark?

Musicians and artists of all mediums here in New York often wonder about the best way to protect their creative work. Copyright law exists to help them do just that. Securing the copyright for a song or a piece of art may seem like an obvious idea, but what about other, less-commonly-copyrighted artistic creations? Can artists obtain a copyright for a phrase? In some cases, that answer is "yes"

Popular rapper Pitbull was recently involved in a rather unusual copyright claim. He obtained a trademark for a yell that he frequently uses in his songs. The yell is called a "grito," which is a traditional Mexican shout and is listed in the trademark claim as "EEEEEEEYOOOOOO". Pitbull contributed to an article appearing in a legal journal regarding the trademarking of the yell. He apparently started using the yell nearly 20 years ago in Miami clubs as a way of warning friends of potential impending trouble. 

Getting a trademark for a sound such as a yell is so unusual that the authors of the article suspect that this may be the first instance of it happening. It could influence the approval of future, similar trademarks. The authors argue that having this yell trademarked is important as it is identifiable with Pitbull and his music. 

Though Pitbull's fame likely helped him with his trademark claim, it sets a precedent for future copyright law. Artists may have to seriously consider exactly what parts of their work may need a copyright. Those who are uncertain of what could be covered may want to speak with an attorney here in New York who understands the complexities of this area of the law. 

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