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I recently purchased licenses for two pieces of music production software; specifically, those are virtual instruments with a library of sound samples.

The end-user license agreement terms for both applications state that I am free to reproduce, distribute, perform etc. my derivative works (musical pieces utilizing the sound samples), as long as I don't distribute the samples on their own. There is also a statement that requires my "including a valid copyright notice" on each of my derivative works.

The contents of that paragraph read as follows:

  1. LIMITED RIGHTS TO MEDIA ELEMENTS. The software may include certain pictures, animations, sounds, music and video clips for your reuse. You may create your own works based upon these media elements, and copy, modify, distribute, display, and perform your derivative works provided that:

    2.1. you indemnify, defend, and hold [company name here] harmless from and against any claims or liabilities arising from your use of the media elements;

    2.2. you include a valid copyright notice on your derivative works.

    You may not sell, license or distribute the media elements by themselves or as part of any collection, product or service whose value is derived solely or primarily from the media elements themselves.

My assumption is that I am required to copyright my derivative works in order to prevent other people from copying parts of it (which could be recognized as redistribution of samples on their own).

However, the paragraph is quite confusing and I'm not completely sure whether it asks me to copyright my music with my own name, or rather include a notice attributing the creators of the software.

If I'm supposed to copyright my works, does that mean I'm restricted from releasing them on a license such as Creative Commons BY-NC-ND (attribution required, non-commercial use, no derivatives)? Could I license my works for other people to use (in unmodified form) e.g. in their videos?

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  • As you may have inferred from the answers, it's not necessary to "copyright" a work to give the work protection. The protection exists automatically.
    – phoog
    Sep 30 '16 at 18:55
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You are required to provide a copyright notice on your work, such as putting (c) rhino 2016 in the liner notes. Nothing precludes you from licensing that copyright in any way you want, such as Creative Commons. As long as you aren't in violation of the last sentence (your work is not primarily the samples, and you actually made a song with them), then others should be able to use your work with no restrictions other than what you yourself place on the work.

The purpose of requiring a copyright notice on derivative works is to give notice of who the actual author is and distance the original author from the derivative work. If you take their samples and make a song that is later at the center of a lawsuit (copyright, defamation, etc), the the copyright notice will hopefully steer people first to the derivative author and not the original author. That is the purpose of the clause in the copyright grant above.

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  • Thanks! I think it would make sense to incorporate your comment under the other answer to this one, so that people in the future can easily find out the reason for such a requirement. Also, I thought putting a copyright notice on a work and releasing it on a relaxed license were mutually exclusive things, so thanks for clearing that up!
    – rhino
    Sep 30 '16 at 16:36
  • I don't think one would be allowed to release one's work with a license that allowed for arbitrary extraction and use of portions thereof for arbitrary purposes, in ways that would allow for the extraction of the original sound samples and their use in competing music software.
    – supercat
    Nov 8 '20 at 16:47
  • @supercat - I think you could always release your work under any license, but that doesn't give more rights that you had available to pass downstream. You couldn't write a valid license that would allow extraction of the original sound files and provide unlimited distribution because you don't have a sublicense right yourself. In other words, you can write whatever you want in this license and be compliant, but it doesn't mean your end user will get any additional rights.
    – David
    Nov 10 '20 at 23:38
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"a valid copyright notice" is a reference to old copyright laws that required the author to explicitly claim copyright. Under current law copyright exists from the moment of creation/fixation (depending on jurisdiction) so a valid copyright notice would be:

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  • 2
    I must disagree with this answer somewhat -- while a copyright notice is not necessary for copyright to apply, U.S. law (at least) formally specifies a format for copyright notices, and use of such a notice does have legal implications (e.g., invalidating a defense of innocent infringement). The non-use of a notice is of course not non-application of copyright, but I argue that the absence of a notice is not a "valid notice" (insofar as a non-notice cannot be a notice) especially since 17 USC 401 does specify what a valid notice looks like.
    – apsillers
    Sep 29 '16 at 15:16
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    In other words, I don't think the license text here is asking for application of copyright); rather, it is applying the completely arbitrary requirement that derivatives include a copyright notice, just as it might apply any other arbitrary requirement, e.g., you must pay $5 for each copy you produce, or that derivatives may only be distributed within the state of California.
    – apsillers
    Sep 29 '16 at 15:24
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    I also disagree with this answer but for an additional reason. The purpose of requiring a copyright notice on derivative works is to give notice of who the actual author is and distance the original author from the derivative work. If you take their samples and make a song that is later at the center of a lawsuit (copyright, defamation, etc), the the copyright notice will hopefully steer people first to the derivative author and not the original author. That is the purpose of the clause in the copyright grant above.
    – David
    Sep 29 '16 at 20:22
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In the US, since the effective date of the 1976 Copyright act, no one can "copyright" a work, or needs to. All works are protected by copyright the moment that they are "fixed in a tangible form" (e.g written down, recorded on magnetic tape, recorded on an optical disk, saved in a computer file, etc). Moreover, when an author did need to take action to copyright a work, simply including a copyright notice was not enough in the US, the work had to be registered.

Automatic protection on fixation is also the case in all countries that adhere to the Bern Copyright Convention or the TRIPPS agreement, which is almost every country on Earth. So the first paragraph applies pretty much everywhere.

Permissive licenses, including Creative commons licenses, are not incompatible with copyright. In fact they depend on copyright protection. They work by the copyright owner granting permission to others to use the work in certain ways, but not in other ways. Copyright law gives the owner the right to do just that, in whatever way the owner chooses, including via any of the CC licenses.

The terms, as quoted, do not claim to forbid a permissive license. If they did, it might be questionable whether this was an enforceable requirement. But since they don't claim this, the matter is not relevant in this case.

In order to comply with the terms a user must:

  1. Include a copyright notice, such as "Copyright © UserX 2020".

  2. Distribute only actual compositions, not the samples and other media elements by themselves.

  3. If there is a lawsuit over a work created with the tool (perhaps on a claim that it infringed someone else's copyright) the user will defend the tool-maker from any liability.

That is all that is required, nothing more. All such works will be the creation of the user (unless they incorporate soemoen else's protected work) and the user may do with the copyright whatever s/he chooses, including licensing it under any license that s/he pleases.

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