Remixing music: Don't get in trouble with the law

You have wanted to work in the music industry for a while, so you started splicing songs and putting together mashups. You started to see a real response to your work, but then you got a letter to cease and desist.

Without knowing it, you had violated the law. You were using unlicensed music, which is not typically legal unless the music is something you wrote yourself or that is currently in public domain.

It doesn't matter if you were selling your new mixes or were giving them away for free. Using someone else's work without permission is illegal. So, should you be worried if you received a cease and desist? What happens if you're served with a lawsuit?

Discuss the law with your attorney

First, it needs to be clear whether you broke the law or not. In some cases, such as when you're making a parody, you may be able to use the fair-use defense. A true parody can sometimes be legal, even when a mash-up or mix would not be.

Your attorney will ask you about your work and what you did to significantly alter it. Is it similar enough to result in copyright infringement? Should you have sought a license? It all depends on the final work.

If you were using music that the other artist made without altering it significantly, then it's likely that you broke the law. If they have only sent you an order to take down the track, then you may be in a good position. However, if a lawsuit follows, you'll want to take steps to defend yourself.

What can you do to legally remix music?

If you want to legally remix music, then you need to take a few steps. These include:

  • Obtaining permission from the copyright holder
  • Buying a copy of the song
  • Keeping records of the permission that you received.

If you mix records and tracks for your own purposes and don't sell or make any money on the mixes, then you may be fine. However, if you use the remixes publicly or intend to sell them as your own, you could get into trouble.

Even with permission to remix a song, you may not be able to perform it. You will also need to obtain performance rights, which is one more thing to discuss with your attorney.

In the end, remixing music can be done, but there are specific steps you need to take to do so legally. If you violate the law, make sure you put together a strong defense to protect yourself.

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