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I'm thinking of trying to learn how to remix songs with GarageBand and similar applications. So far I'm a total noob, and I'm just wondering who is allowed remix what songs? Is anyone allowed to remix a popular song and call it their own? Or is it necessary to contact the song's creator to gain permission?

On a similar note, what if the artist is dead? I would assume you would not need to contact anyone, but maybe there are some family members who wouldn't want the songs to be remixed?

Thanks for any help / advice you can give!

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2 Answers 2

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Like user2808054 says, if you're just messing around at home, you can do what you want.

But if you're going to start publicly displaying your music (for money or not) a number of different rules start cropping up, such as copyright, and various other Creative Commons licences.

Arrangements

If you write an arrangement of a piece, you need to give credit to the original "authors", which may include composer and lyricist. As long as you provide proper reference, and your arrangement is "different enough" from the original, that's fine.

Musical Phrases

Some publishers may not allow for remixing of certain current songs (by current I mean the singer/songwriter is still alive and making money from sales). If you are just using a tune/phrase "snippit" from a piece in your composition, usually that's ok as long as it does not make up a significant portion of your overall work. Be careful that if you're using a collection of phrases from different works from the same artist that they get "concerned" about it. This YouTube video ("John Williams is the Man") had initially received some criticism (and almost a lawsuit) from the publishers because the whole song used musical phrases from a collection of songs all from John Williams. The artist eventually came to an agreement with the publishers and added the song and movie titles as super/sub titles in the video.

When in doubt, include a reference to the original work you're using.

Copyright

Depending on what kind of work it is, Copyright may persist long after the author is dead. Even then, the artists family may apply for an extension which would transfer the rights to the artists family. From the Wikipedia entry on "Copyright":

In most of the world, the default length of copyright is the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years. In the United States, the term for most existing works is a fixed number of years after the date of creation or publication. Under most countries' laws (for example, the United States[39] and the United Kingdom[40]), copyrights expire at the end of the calendar year in question.

I hope this helps, and have fun!

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It depends on what you're going to do with it. If it's just for home use and your own enjoyment, then you can do what you want. If you're going to try to sell it and call it your own (ie, a commercial venture), then there will certainly be an issue about copyright. Working out who owes who what is a hugely complicated area.

If you're remixing a song, using original tracks from the original artist, then you absolutely can't call it your own. It;s theirs - you're just messing with it.

If the artist is dead, this doesn't mean you can just use their stuff. They might not even own the copyright themselves. There are laws about when material comes "out of copyright" but these vary depending on the country you're working in.

Vanilla Ice used Queen & Bowie's "Under Pressure" riff but (he says in interview) it wasn't a sample; they played it afresh, and added one extra note at the start of the riff which meant it was different enough to be able to call it their own.

Early Cliff Richard music has recently come out of copyright. It's alleged that he's still alive.

Others will know much more about it than me, but that's the nub of it.

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According to Wikipedia, despite not being so at first, credits (and money) are now properly given to Bowie and Queen for the “Ice Ice Baby” bass line. –  Édouard Jan 9 at 12:48

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