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Background: I'm making a retro style game for both fun, and an unofficial contest.

I have bought a song, song X. However, I then found notation for song X, and all the instruments. So basically, it's a program recreating song X in a sense.

I took the notation, and used another program to make it sound like a chiptune does (just for the fun of it, and it sounds good :P). However, I would like to use this in my game. It's non-commercial, but is this allowed? I would've said yes, because I'm not actually using the original, copyrighted song.

I think the main point is can I:

  • Use the music with no reference to the author
  • Use the music with a reference, since it's non-profit.
  • Not use the music at all since the melody and rhythm is copyright.
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This sounds suitably specific that you might want to invoke a lawyer. –  coderanger Sep 18 '10 at 10:44
    
Oh. I thought there would be a simple answer, since I'm using an unofficial...copy? of the music, then it could be a simple 'yes, anything to do with it is copyright you can't use', 'it's copyright but it's non-commercial so you just acknowledge them', or 'do what you want'. –  The Communist Duck Sep 18 '10 at 10:50
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No one on this site is in a position to offer specific legal advice as far as I know. Someone could make general statements about IP law, fair use, etc etc, but you are asking something very specific that would probably require some decent case law research to answer with any degree of certainty. If you want to be safe, why not just shoot an email to the author? If they give you an okay, you can do whatever you want. –  coderanger Sep 18 '10 at 11:13
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I'm voting to close because I think this is off-topic and a dangerous precedent. We are not lawyers, this is not legal advice, and you cannot get good legal advice here. Aside from that, it is only peripherally related to game development. –  user744 Sep 19 '10 at 21:44
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I don't have the rep to vote against closing (not that there is such a thing :) but I think the question should be kept open - see the Legal questions discussion for my reasons. –  Cyclops Nov 7 '10 at 14:30
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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

You are using a derivative of the song, which falls under copyright. Also it doesn't matter whether you credit the original artist or not make a profit. It is still copyrighted.

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I'll paraphrase my answer from Audio copyright questions (and I am Not a Lawyer :)

Note that this assumes you're in the US (or other Berne signatory countries), and in particular, Canada may be different, as was discussed.

It also assumes that when you say, "bought a song", you meant bought a copy from Amazon or somewhere - if you actually bought the copyright, then that's different. :) But buying a copy of a song, does not give you a whole lot of rights. For instance, you can't play it at public performances, without paying royalties (say you were a bartender at a bar, and broadcast the song over the bar's PA system - that's a no-no.)

In general: Anything that is copyrighted, requires the copyright owner's permission to use - regardless of whether you intend to make money with the project or not. There are certain very limited exceptions, like Fair Use, but that generally only applies to educational projects that use short excerpts of the material, not an entire piece. And this applies to derivative works (although a parody of the original material is also an exception to that).

Granted - if you aren't making money, the copyright owners probably won't come after you - but that's not the same as saying they can't legally. Even if it's a free project, they could take legal action against you.

You may want to consider the Where is Free Music question.

RIAA goes after YouTube
RIAA sues the Girl Scouts

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It would be nice if whoever downvoted this, also added a comment explaining why - is there something wrong in the answer? –  Cyclops Sep 20 '10 at 0:20
    
Dunno why you were downvoted, but I've just upvoted you as I can't see anything inaccurate here. –  Kylotan Sep 20 '10 at 12:34
    
Thanks, @Kylotan (and others). I suspect it was because my answer was, "no, he can't use the music" :) Hey, I'm trying to help the OP by keeping him out of legal trouble - I'm not the one passing draconian copyright laws. :) –  Cyclops Sep 20 '10 at 13:07
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Don't use existing music, hire a composer to write a parody song or something stylistically similar. Game soundtracks should be unique. ;)

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