I'm nowhere near ready for this step, but I prefer to gather information in advance, rather than waiting until it's necessary. I plan to ask any potential composers to provide their 2 best compositions and 1 composition created using a provided list of guidelines. This is simply to decide if they're right for the job. How do I authenticate the 3 compositions they'll provide, to verify that they aren't providing someone else's work?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Does composition refer to an audio file of some type or does it refer to sheet music / scoring? \$\endgroup\$
    – Pikalek
    Apr 18, 2023 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Responding to @Pikalek. Technically both, but I'm more concerned with audio files. I don't currently have a method of converting sheet music to audio, so if provided exclusively, it would be rendered useless. Thank you for asking to clarify. I hadn't thought about this distinction previously. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19, 2023 at 13:50

1 Answer 1


I'm not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, situations vary by jurisdiction. The sort answer is: it's complicated.

Before addressing the authentication issue, I want to be clear that at least in the U.S., the core of this question is an issue. Secondary infringement occurs when a third party enables or supports infringement and can therefore be held responsible. The U.S. Copyright Act does not explicitly cover secondary liability for infringement, and thus various federal appellate courts have develop separate interpretations. This is why a lot of legal questions result in answers of "ask a lawyer" - case law is complicated.

For attempting to authenticate the originality of audio files, there are a couple of things you could try.

You could run the content past Google's Content ID. Basically, you make a video, add the music and upload it as a private video. The system then scans the content and informs you if it violates Google's copyright criteria. However this isn't a perfect process:

  • the system may incorrectly flag something as previously copyrighted that isn't
  • the system may incorrectly fail to flag something as copyrighted that is
  • this isn't the intended use of the system and Google may change to prevent using it in this way

Also, from what I understand, you must include video with the audio to try this.

Another option is to use a service like Pex's MixScan. Their services claim to identify the most uses of copyrighted content, including speed and pitch changes used to avoid detection. Unlike Content ID, MixScan/Pex Search is intended to inform licensing, attribution, and compliance decisions. However it still has some of the same potential problems - it can make mistakes.

Because there's no way to guarantee that originality of music that your contractors might turn in, it's important to consider ways to guard against secondary infringement. This post from Legal SO on avoiding IP infringement by contracted work covers the basics:

  • Take reasonable steps to avoid knowing use of infringing material
    • For example, use some sort of search even if you know it isn't a guarantee
  • Use contracts (the word contract is literally in the word contractor)
    • Include an indemnification clause in your agreements with your contractors
  • Carry liability insurance

The issue of sheet music has some additional complications. In the U.S. copyright is not just one right, but a collection of rights granted to the creator of an original work. This collection includes the right to control copying, distribution, and adaptation. Your performance of the sheet music is very likely also a creative work. The interaction between your rights as the performer can interact with the contractors rights as the composer. This is why copyright law has evolved such that each right must be negotiated separately. Do not assume that you automatically get all the rights you want from your contractors. Buying the sheet music is simply a legal transfer of a copy of the work.

On the matter of contracts, consider:

  • Hiring a lawyer to make your contract.
  • Doing careful research & using a reputable contract template. For example, Legal Zoom has on-line templates as well as some advice for deciding when legal templates aren't good enough.
  • Doing enough research to become a legal expert and drawing up your own contracts. By this I mean, to the point where you would accept legal liability for giving out legal advice. Because this what you are doing: giving yourself legal advice and accepting the associated liability.
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This was informative. I'm pleased to hear that there is software available that specializes in scanning files for infringement, as I had hoped. Google did not do a very good job of leading me to it while searching. Instead, it lead me here. I had planned on hiring a lawyer as soon as I'm ready for that step. Thank you for your help. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19, 2023 at 18:22

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