Musicians to politicos: respect our copyright

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By Mark Pere Madrona, VERA Files

A group of music industry stakeholders are appealing to candidates to obtain the necessary permits before using local or foreign songs in their campaign activities, warning that they can be held liable for violating the country’s existing copyright law.

Filipino Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (FILSCAP) president Noel Cabangon …

Filipino Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (FILSCAP) president Noel Cabangon said in a phone interview that candidates and political parties must seek the permission of the musical works’ copyright owners like composers and publishers.

“If they (the candidates) don’t have the license from the copyright owners and yet they use the songs, they can be sued for copyright infringement,” Cabangon said. The licensing fee, if any, will be determined by the copyright owners and the candidates during their negotiations, he said.

Candidates can only use songs, usually with modified lyrics, as their campaign jingles after they have obtained a mechanical license from the songs’ copyright holders.

“They should also be paying for the songs they use during campaign sorties. They may not be profiting from it but they are using the music to attract people for political gain,” Cabangon said.

According to Article 171.6 of Republic Act (RA) 8293 or the Intellectual Property Act of the Philippines, sound recordings are being used for public performances whenever it is made “audible at a place or at places where persons outside the normal circle of a family and that family's closest social acquaintances are or can be present.”

Cabangon said music composers and publishers should be aware of their rights. “They need to be assertive. They have to find a way to monitor (instances of copyright infringement),” he added, noting that artists can use websites like Facebook and YouTube to monitor possible cases of infringement. “We cannot file charges based on hearsay evidence and actual witnesses,” he stressed.

The singer/composer explained that once artists have gathered enough proof that their copyright may have been infringed, they can send a notice to the candidates concerned asking them to cease-and-desist from using their work. If this request is ignored, then aggrieved parties can begin the process of litigation.

The FILSCAP, Cabangon said, is ready to assist their members in any way.

He said that politicians should be careful in using foreign songs as well, noting that international artists have their respective local music publishers who are ready to protect their interests.

During the 2010 elections, Rico Blanco, former frontman of the group Rivermaya, triggered a controversy when he asked then administration presidential nominee Gilbert Teodoro to stop using the song “Posible” in his television spots.

Blanco said the Teodoro camp failed to get his consent when they used his composition but the group said that they were given permission by Rivermaya’s erstwhile manager, Lizza Nakpil, who holds the copyright to the song.

FILSCAP, through the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, wants to come up with an agreement with the Commission on Elections where copyright infringement will be listed as an election offense. “We hope that by 2016, candidates who use songs without the permission of the copyright owners can be disqualified,” Cabangon said.

RA 8293 prescribes the following punishments for convicted copyright infringers:

(a) Imprisonment of one to three years plus a fine ranging from P50,000 to P150,000 for the first offense.

(b) Imprisonment of three years and one day to six years plus a fine ranging from P150,000 to P500,000 for the second offense.

(c) Imprisonment of six years and one day to nine years plus a fine ranging from P500,000 to P1,500,000 for the third and subsequent offenses.

With the 2013 election season now entering its final three weeks, Cabangon appealed to composers and music publishers alike to avoid charging politicians with exorbitant licensing fees even as he conceded that elections do provide them with a good opportunity to earn.

Politicians, for their part, should show their sincerity in serving the public by not ignoring the rights accorded to music composers and publishers. “How can they be good public officials if they don’t know how to follow a simple rule like this?” Cabangon said.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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