What laws should I know about sound effect recording?

Copyright matters affecting music and musicians.
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What laws should I know about sound effect recording?

Post by Halie0201 »


I come across some questions about sound effect recording. What kind of sound can be recorded as a sound effect and used in a movie without copyright infringement?

Such as:
Siren of cars;
Announcing stations in underground;
Cries of sellers in the streets;
Special sound effect of unlocking the mobile phones;
Broadcast in the supermarket;
Background music in public places with human voices

What's the general rule and laws of sound recording?
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Re: What laws should I know about sound effect recording?

Post by AndyJ »

Hi again Halie,

The easiest way to approach this in general is to analyse what if any creativity lies behind the sound, and then try and see if any of the exceptions for fair dealing would apply to those that appear to be creative works. Since you seem to be asking about sound effects which are recorded other than at the time the main action is being videoed, and the two edited together in post production, it is unlikely that the incidental inclusion exception will apply. However if you record a piece of video with sound and one of the sounds you mention is coincidentally going on in the background, it may well count as incidental inclusion and so would not infringe. However when it came to something as contentious as music, the main subject matter of the filming would really need to be reportage or documentary in its nature, since where drama or pre-scripted action was being recorded, it would probably be reasonable to expect to do a second take to avoid the copyright music in the background. Obviously a little common sense needs to be applied though. For instance if you were recording a dramatic scene on location in a fair ground, it would be both impossible and highly undesirable to have no music in the background and thus I would expect the incidental inclusion exception to apply in that specific instance.

So turning to your examples:

Siren of cars; No creative work, therefore no copyright.
Announcing stations in underground; Factual information, therefore unlikely to be copyright.
Cries of sellers in the streets; Unscripted and not 'fixed'*, therefore no copyright.
Special sound effect of unlocking the mobile phones; If this uses musical notes then it could well be a musical work which will almost certainly be subject to copyright. If it's just bleeps or a similar sort of noise, it may qualify as a sound recording and therefore subject to copyright as such.
Broadcast in the supermarket; If this is just a voice announcement saying that baked beans are reduced in price this week, it is unlikely to be copyright. Any music would be subject to copyright.
Background music in public places with human voices The music is likely to be protected by copyright assuming it is from a recorded source. The sound of a busker may or may not be copyright depending on the age of the song/music being performed. For example, a violinist playing Bach on a street corner would not be subject to copyright, although his/her performance would be protected. Theoretically you need the performer's permission to record their performance, although I very much doubt that any busker would wish to enforce this right.

* by 'fixed' I mean that a work has been recorded (see section 3(2) CDPA) in some permanent form. Ordinary unscripted speech would not be subject to copyright unless it was recorded in some manner. Ironically, if you record such speech in the background, that would be sufficient to mean the speech was protected by copyright! See the famous case from 1900: Walter v Lane
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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