Are you going a bit GAGA?

Copyright laws - among others in Germany - and the great difficulties to know and assess what is allowed - and what is not. Stars like Elvis, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Lady Gaga are musical icons and partly already legends of music history.  They are everywhere in our daily lives – on the radio, in commercials and we find their fashion in lifestyle and VIP magazines. Copyright laws – among others - make such a financial commercialization possible. Copyrights grant  the creator of a “work”, for example, the composer of a song, several exclusive rights like the right to publish the song, be credited for the work,  to adapt the work to other forms and, most importantly, the right to copy the song and to determine who may perform the work and financially benefit from it. Similar rights are also granted other persons involved in the “creation” of the work, like the producer or performing artist who participate in the work. QUESTION(S): What happens if a copyright is infringed? How far can one go without violating copyrights? Do you already violate copyrights if you imitate your idol’s style – and, can you sing their songs out loud if the song remains as a catchy tune in one´s ear? Why are these questions and their answers so important? The violation and infringement of copyrights results in costly warning notices, cease and desist letters including undertaking commitments and/or (large) claims for damages. AS A RULE OF THUMB: The private use of copyright protected works in general does not constitute a violation of copyright laws. It is also allowed to reproduce few (!) copies for private usage without having to worry about legal consequences. Therefore, singing “What a beautiful day” under the shower in the morning does not infringe an existing copyright yet. Also, the presentation of one´s singing skills in front of close friends in the living room at home does not violate copyright law. However, everything going further than this is likely to be relevant to copyrights. A performance in public - and especially for the public - always requires the consent of the creator of the work and the participating actors. This is already the case, when the performance in the living room at home is put on YouTube. Consequently, it is advisable to either perform only one´s own music in public or to enquire very carefully and thoroughly which consents are necessary. But - for all fashionistas and fans of extravagant outfits of the stars: We have good news: You do not have to worry. Your Elvis-outfit does not have to disappear into your closet. The stars may be big trendsetters . However,  their outfits and their appearances on the red carpet do not constitute “works of art” according to (German) copyright law. The one or other exception may need to be made, e.g. Lady Gaga in her raw meat dress. But honestly – who wants to look like THAT?