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Things to think about before granting a license: Which rights are you granting, and what does that mean?

Things to think about before granting a license: Which rights are you granting, and what does that mean?

It is your music - right?

In this article, we will point out some very basic things to consider before starting to publish ones creative musical output online.

The information given here does apply to sharing music on wikiloops, but is of such general character that it does apply to any other online platform out there which offers uploading music to be streamed to the public.

To start out, let's get back to the initial question:
Is it your music?
Well, we sure do hope so, because cover songs are not allowed on wikiloops.
But hold on: If you are planning to upload a remix of a track you downloaded from wikiloops, the answer to our question is:
No, it is not. You are the "owner" of anything you added to a remix, but the other contributor(s) also own their parts of the collaboration which you have included in your mix. So the correct answer in the remix case reads: No, you do not hold the exclusive rights on a remix, but you become a member of a group of rights owners.
Of course the situation is different if you create a song which contains nothing but your own creative work & recordings, then you may indeed claim to be the owner of that track.

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Now, what do you have to loose when publishing a track online?

To answer this and to make sure you will not miss the crucial bits, we need to break things down a little more.
"Ownership" does not really reveal all aspects which are relevant to answer the question, so let's start by realizing that being the author & executing musician of an original song leads to two legally relevant states:
1st, you are the author of the piece (think "writer", not "player") - and if you do not plan to sign any agreements which will allow someone else to claim they had written the song (ghost-writers do that), then your authorship is not likely to be ever transferred once a track is published - so that is not what is at stake of getting "lost" to you.

2ndly and completely unrelated to the authorship aspect, your "ownership" of your musical piece includes the aspect of "having the right to market the track and grant use to others". This is what we'd like to focus on here, because this is the key to what you should be aware of before starting to publish tracks online.
Again, let's stay aware that in case of a remix, you co-own the marketing rights with the other contributors, so you are not in any legal position to claim to be the exclusive marketing rights owner of such remixes (regardless of uploading your remix anywhere), nor can your collaboration partners claim they held exclusive rights on the remix you created.

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Marketing rights is not the same as marketing options

After pointing towards the relevance of the marketing- and use-rights aspect, we will provide some more details on those further down this article.
But before we do and go off exploring possible use-cases of dealing with your marketing- and use-rights,
let's quickly introduce another reality which you better be aware of before rushing to any conclusions:
Just because you do hold marketing- and use-rights (or a share of those in case of a remix), that does not mean that there is a market for these rights.
You should try to foresee the side effects of your publishing activity, as that may end your chance to find a market just as harsh as handing over your complete marketing- and use-rights to some online platform would do.
Mind, that is not what happens when you upload to wikiloops, but you should be aware that the how-does-the-market-react aspect can be a fatal pitfall.

Let's have a very simple example of what we are talking about here:
Given you are the only creator and full rights owner of a track.
Now, you decide to publish your track online on a video platform which requires you to grant them online streaming rights, but -as you have carefully checked- does not ask for any physical distribution rights on the song.
You are planning to have a physical CD released as well, and expect to be good to go since you still hold the exclusive marketing- and use-rights, minus the granted video streaming which you may still grant, but do not own exclusively any longer.
You go ahead and seek out stores who will sell your physical CD or try to find some big vendor to accept the song, and you may find out the hard way the people are no longer interested to work with you, based on thoughts like "It's already out there for free and everyone is playing it on their smartphones, we don't believe this will sell."
Of course this was a fictional example, but it demonstrates that besides "loosing rights", you should also watch out not to "loose options".

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Why does the "exclusive" factor matter?

You may expect that having something and having the right to sell the thing would be enough to do what you might want to do, and being left with non-exclusive rights after having granted someone rights would leave you with all options.
That is correct - given you and your friend bob agree you both may sell a track on vinyl, then there is nothing wrong with that.

But again, the market reality is different:
When trying to get onto digital music marketplaces such as iTunes or amazon music (to name just two), you will find out that they will only work with you if you are holding the exclusive rights - any venturing Bobs who might eventually try to enter the same marketplace with the same material are deemed too irritating to be tolerable,
which is a bit funny if you realize it would be no problem if both of you sold physical vinyl copys on the amazon marketplace.

Summed up and applied to our wikiloops reality, you may not be able to enter certain marketplaces simply because you do not hold complete exclusive rights on the material any longer (or have never done so in case of creating a remix).
To be absolutely safe and aware of what will be the effects of uploading your track anywhere online, you should not only check the conditions of the platform you are uploading to, but should also be aware of the requirements of potential other partners such as the digital distribution platforms or other services that you may find relevant.

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Conclusion: Can I still hope to get rich and famous with tracks I shared on wikiloops?

The wikiloops public license is the mandatory license to choose when uploading to the public section of wikiloops - any uploads to the private collaborations in band areas on wikiloops fall under the wikiloops private license, which grants a smaller set of rights since no public display & streaming needs to be covered.

The details of the wikiloops public license are explained in all detail on this page, but to offer a final conclusion right here, it will probably do to mention that both audio streaming rights and the rights needed to let people download the track from wikiloops need to be granted (otherwise, we had no legal basis on which we could provide wikiloops the way we do), and you agree to grant these rights to wikiloops for free.
Once you have done that, you no longer own the complete exclusive rights, so after all the aspects we have covered on this page:
Please be aware that your chances of getting rich and famous by marketing any track you shared on wikiloops are even more limited than they are if you do not share them for free here.

That is not a bad thing if you are here to have some fun and get some feedback, but it's a bad thing if you have different intentions and find out about it too late.

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