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FORMERLY: (Where) Does the piracy line blur?

Alright, as I re-read this it sounds like a copyright law test question, but here goes anyway:


Riding on the wave of moral discourse that is going on today...

I'm looking to see if/where the line on piracy blurs, and am particularly interested in the reactions of those of you around here who have released or plan on releasing libraries yourself, as I assume you have investigated such situations. I would like to state before I get myself deeply mired in a seriously bad reputation that I do not condone nor use pirated software or other "warez" in any professional manner. However, I do have a question that I'm pretty positive I know the answer to but still wanted to put this out for general consensus.

Example:

I work at a company who has legally purchased multiple sound effect libraries. In my day-to-day activities I edit using those FX. I claim the edit as my work, but the sounds edited are clearly not mine.

Now, say that while at work I do something like Charles' whoosh generator using sounds from a library that my company purchased. I process the living heck out of a select few of them to make more sounds for the company's library. It's not work that we are billing for, so it doesn't fall into work for hire through an outside contract. It's merely an activity that occupies free time. So who owns these new sounds?

As a full-time employee I assume that I'm employed under work-for-hire, and as such they would belong to the company for as long as it existed. But I'm not terribly certain that is the actual terms of my employment. I can't say that I remember signing anything that would have conveyed such an agreement. And honestly don't really know what the alternative would be.

So, assuming that I don't sell these derivative works publicly (cause that's clearly a library license violation) am I at liberty to add these "fresh" sounds to my personal library, or would I have to be an owner of the original library that the source sounds were obtained from?

Would your answer change if I used company equipment to record sound effects and used those sounds as source material for the process?

  • Great question. +1 – Utopia Oct 7 '10 at 2:12
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Wow, totally need a legal team to answer this one!

I don't believe that any of the examples you listed even remotely suggests piracy, so I'd suggest editing the title of your post. Your employer has a license to the libraries that you use and the design/editing work you are suggesting falls within the rights of the license, so there is no piracy suggested.

I think there are really 2 questions here:

  1. Who would your employer feel owns the sounds you create using their libraries?

  2. Who would library publishers feel own the sounds you create using the libraries licensed to your employer?

I'll give my opinion on the answer to #2 first. The facility you work at licensed the sounds. The sounds are being used according to license. The license gives the facility the right to use the sounds as part of a project. This should be the only worry of the sound library publisher. Since the sounds are licensed and used correctly, their stake in this should be over. Ever company and license is different, I don't care what people do with my sounds as long as they pay for a license and use according to the license terms. If you were designing those whoosh sounds for a film, the owners of the film would claim to own the designed sounds, right?

To answer #1, I'd say your employer would claim ownership over anything you create on their premises, using their libraries/equipment, etc. Some would even try to claim ownership over anything you create at any time, any place in the world, while employed by them. Some will try to claim ideas that you thought up while lying in bed at night.

Without a clear employment contract, stating all these terms in writing, it is tough to tell. My rule has always been, any work I do on an employer's permises is theirs, anything outside is mine. Who has the better lawyers, I'm sure it's not you :)

I've worked as an in-house sound designer for 5 different game studios (4 different publishers) over the last 12 years. All but one clearly stated in my employment contract that any work I created while at work was owned by them. 2 of the places even tried to claim ownership of anything that I created, while employed, even in my own time, using my own gear, in my own house, would be owned by them; provided it was in a business that they are currently in or may be in at some point. Translation; we own your life, your thoughts, and everything else. We are currently only making games, but we could be in any line of business we want to! I haven't seen contracts like that in about 5+ years, my guess is they are not enforceable and possibly not even legal. At least in California.

  • Good call Chuck! I was reading through the post and thinking what I was gonna say, then scrolled down to your response and you've summed up pretty much my take on it all. Apart from the bit about working for 5 different game studios! – Colin Hunter Oct 7 '10 at 8:41
  • Really, not even remotely? I guess I'm concerned about being a thief by adding any self-created sounds to my own library. I see your point in the library's POV. I'm certainly going to have a chat with the boss and see what he thinks. – Steve Urban Oct 7 '10 at 13:39
  • Is that a better title @Chuck? – Steve Urban Oct 8 '10 at 18:48
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If I were in your situation, I'd feel like they were mine -- I've created things on company time, with company software, that I kept as my own -- but I know for a fact that my employer would see things differently.

Are you on regular payroll, or are you paid by project? That may make all the difference... if you're salaried, assume that everything you make on their time is theirs. If not, perhaps consider that they're being incredibly generous with their space and assets, and discuss with them how they feel about said sounds; some employers may surprise you.

  • My employment contract states that any documents/sounds/code etc. created during working hours or using work equipment belongs to them (or more precisely the project's IP). I've always assumed this is the case for all creative proffessionals - but maybe its just the games industry :) – RedSonic01 Oct 7 '10 at 6:48
  • Yeah, salaried full-time. I'm definitely going to have a discussion with the guys. We're all pretty good friends here. I was employee #2. Second to the boss' wife, so I may be in a very fortunate situation. We'll see. – Steve Urban Oct 7 '10 at 13:44
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Who owns the sound of one hand clapping?

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    that would be me. ;) – Shaun Farley Oct 7 '10 at 12:45
  • LOL. Do you collect royalties or simply license it @Shaun? – Steve Urban Oct 7 '10 at 13:20
  • @Steve @Shaun He keeps count of every person in the world who claps, to which they owe him royalty via the ASCAP. He is currently owed 12.4 billion dollars. – Utopia Oct 7 '10 at 16:39
  • Very zen of you. – Dave Matney Oct 7 '10 at 18:42
  • So when someone claps both hands against each other that would count as two instances and require two licenses? Cunning scheme! – EMV Oct 8 '10 at 22:05
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I always go by this rule......if I have to ask if it's piracy.....it probably is. But the combo of sounds to create a specific design, I believe is yours.

  • good rule @Detroit – Steve Urban Oct 8 '10 at 13:08

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