Knowledge Base Article: KB2312
Topic: FAQ - Content-Related Questions, Genre, Style, Public Domain, and Soundalike Issues

Title: Guidelines and Considerations for Writing Sound-Alike Music


Last Reviewed: Nov 21, 2017
Keywords: soundalike, soundalikes, sound-alikes, sound alikes, cover songs, cover versions

Guidelines and Considerations for Writing Sound-Alike Music

Sound-alike music is intended to imitate the sound of a popular song, the style of a popular recording artist, the sound of a current musical trend, or the sound and/or style of music from a popular TV show or movie.  In terms of vocal music, it may also refer to creation of music where the voice or vocal mannerisms of a given celebrity's vocal performance are emulated.

Unfortunately, with the recent successful infringement lawsuit brought by Eminem against a music library that licensed selling a soundalike track that was far too similar to one of Eminem's most lucrative tracks, our position on soundalikes has unfortunately changed, on STRONG advice from our legal counsel.  

As a result of this change, we have eliminated our Soundalike genre and all the subgenres underneath it as an option of where you can categorize your tracks.  The genre and subgenres still technically exist in our database, however, we are moving towards suppressing them and phasing them out.

We have to be careful at all times to avoid expensive lawsuits that can be devastating for our business, and for you as well.  Hence, here below is our revised guidance about how to proceed if you're considering writing this kind of music:


1) Do not write soundalikes. It's ethically wrong, legally questionable, and not worth the economic risk.

2) If you are inspired by other works, write in a way that captures their spirit and emotion, as if your work and their work could fit side by side, but do not base your work on anything specific. 

3) Do not use the term soundalike in your metadata and do not refer to other artists or specific works in your titles, because doing so is an admission of intent which can trigger statutory damages. 



PLEASE NOTE:  Taking a famous song and changing a few notes in it, but otherwise having it sound the same, does NOT create a safe version of the song that you can then license without risk of drawing an infringement lawsuit from the original owner of the song you based your "new" song around.

Are Tributes Fair Game?  Changing "SoundAlike" to "Tribute" will neither shield you from potential litigation nor is it likely prevail in the event of litigation. Plaintiffs' counsel would simply argue that if you're so inspired by the artist and care so much for the artist then pay them what they're due.



CONCERNED FINANCIAL EXPOSURE?  READ ON...

The courts have clearly spelled out what constitutes fair use, and 'tributes" are not among the available fair use defenses. Additionally, tributes open their own can of worms. Tribute bands, for example, must license the music of the band to which they are paying tribute in order to perform it legitimately. 

Copying a song, or even a style, and then using the original artist's name or making references to their work to promote your work enters the realm of the "right to publicity." Then, you are inviting two kinds of lawsuits, one for copyright infringement and one for violating the original composer's "right to publicity." The underlying motive is still to derive profits by providing a less expensive alternative to the original. You can't escape that reality no matter how you dress it. 

Potential Damages
There are three kinds of damages in an infringement case, Actual Damages, Profits, and Statutory Damages. Actual damages are what the plaintiff lost.  If a client pays AudioSparx $200 to license a U2 knockoff instead of paying U2 $200,000, the actual damages are $200,000. Profits, are the money the infringer made. In this case $200. These two types of damages can be hard to prove and verify. For example, if the client says "we never would have or could have paid $200K to license U2's song," did U2 really sustain $200K in damages?  

This is where statutory damages and intent come into play.

17 U.S.C. § 504(c) specifically allows for statutory damages set by the Act.  For infringements that cannot clearly be proven as either innocent or willful, statutory damages may be from $750 to $30,000 per infringement depending on the circumstances. The amount will depend on the seriousness of the infringing act and the financial worth of the infringer. On the other hand, an innocent infringer may have to pay as little as $200, while an intentional infringer may have to pay as much as $150,000 for a single infringement of one work.


The Bottom Line: 

Is earning a $200 or even $2000 commission worth putting yourself at risk of a $150,000 lawsuit?  NO!

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