How they tried to steal Seat Number Seven from me

Most sampled: James Brown. Photograph: Wikipedia
Ian ColeYork musician Ian J Cole is stunned when two companies try to claim copyright on his brand-new compositions


I’ve recently had a run in with a couple of music publishing houses (one in France and one in Germany) and this prompted me to cover the thorny issue of music copyright.

The copyright of music is a massive problem for record companies and anyone trying to make a living out of their music. There are two schools of thought, one that copyright doesn’t matter and we should be able to copy, download, resample, rewrite and do whatever we like with a piece of music because once it’s out in the public domain than it’s for everyone to use.

The other camp feels that the composer and artist should get a royalty for every time a piece of music is played or recorded or sampled. A few years ago the most sampled record was drum patterns from James Brown’s back catalogue and in fact Funky Drummer is still number two according to WhoSampled.com. All of this royalty copyright stuff keeps music publishing lawyers ready to sue at the drop of a hat.

This is not a new problem. Mozart apparently had issues with people stealing his ideas. Albinoni’s famous Adagio in G Minor wasn’t written by him it was written by his biographer Remo Giazotto. Imagine how his descendants feel at missing out on all those royalty cheques.

Even the guy who recorded Buddy Holly, Norman Petty, added his name to the writing credits of several of Holly’s songs including the hit Peggy Sue. Petty of course didn’t write these songs – he recorded and produced them – but part of the deal was adding his name to the writing credits. So another poor musician/composer gets ripped off.

Anyway my story starts with my birthday present, a small synthesiser from Korg called a Kaossilator 2 which allows me to create music on the fly. I tend to use it as a composer’s notepad and this is exactly what I did on travelling on the train back from Edinburgh. I spend about 30 minutes composing the basics of an electronic piece that I called Seat Number 7 – this was my seat number on the train of course. The composition was edited back at home; a little piano was added and then finally mixed and mastered by myself.

I decided to put the piece on my You Tube channel, so I created a little video to go with the finished track and duly uploaded the finished masterpiece (I’m being ironic) thinking no more about it, apart from hoping people might listen and like it.

Within seconds of the video going live on YouTube I was send the following email:

Dear ianjohncole,
Your video “Seat Number 7”, may have content that is owned or licensed by Kontor New Media, but it’s still available on YouTube! In some cases, ads may appear next to it.
This claim is not penalising your account status. Visit your Copyright Notice page for more details on the policy applied to your video.
Yours sincerely,
– The YouTube Team

And within a few more seconds another email arrived from YouTube with the same message, but this time the company was called Believe. I was flabbergasted as all of the content was created by sounds generated in the Korg Kaossilator which need any copyright clearance.

I duly wrote back to both companies the same day (through YouTube’s web email system) and explained where, when and how Seat Number 7 was composed saying that I even had a witness, as sitting in seat number eight on the train was my wife who watched me compose the piece. She didn’t have to listen as I was wearing headphones.

And then I waited…

And waited…

Hours turned into days, days turned into weeks. Just as I was about to start a “Free The Seat Number 7 One” campaign and rally everyone I know in York to march down Coney Street on a Saturday afternoon stopping at the YorkMix offices en route for tea and biscuits, I finally got the following email (it only took them 36 days to have a listen to my piece):

Dear ianjohncole,
Believe has reviewed your dispute and released its copyright claim on your video, “Seat Number 7”. For more information, please visit your Copyright Notice page
Yours sincerely,
The YouTube Team

And then the following day another similar message regarding Kontor New Media’s claim against me.

Hurray! I felt like a free man and so relieved to know that the copyright police were not going to come knocking at my door demanding access to my computer hard-drives.

I am of course joking. I found the whole thing mildly annoying but there is a bigger issue here: musicians and composers should be paid for the work they do (see my YorkMix piece from May 2012). There was a lot of fuss over musicians not getting paid at the Olympics and Paralympics which led the Musicians’ Union to launch an awareness campaign.

As for which copyright camp I fall into, I’m somewhere in the middle. If you’re a guy working in your bedroom wanting to remix a composition I’ve created or add it to your own work I’m happy for that to happen and I won’t want a fee (unless you’re loaded). But I would still want to be asked (it is my right to refuse of course) and I’d want you to make sure I’m credited and the correct PPL, ISRC & PRS codes are registered (these are codes that identify a song/composition on a CD or download so writers can receive royalties).

But on the other hand if you’re a film company or large publisher wanting to use my piece in the next blockbuster (I wish) then I would like paying please.

In fact I’ve turned down two film contracts in the last couple of years because they required me to give up my copyright on the songs that were going to use in each film. This means that if I added these songs to the Katie And The Questions album and those were the songs the company wanted then I would be paying a percentage to the film company every time I sell an album. Even though they don’t have anything to do with it. That doesn’t seem right somehow does it?

The publishing deal that I finally signed with MusicIQ, a music publisher in New York, means that I get to keep all copyright, I can licence or do whatever I want with my songs and compositions I’ve written. And if MuseIQ want to place one of my songs in the next episode of Game Of Thrones or the latest CSI spin-off (CSI Boston maybe!) then we’ll split the fee and the royalties (although I’ll get full composer’s royalties) and both will have better bank balances for it.

As for Kontor New Media and Believe, they are both off my Christmas card list!

Ian J Cole (All copyright clearance provided) ©2012 🙂