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Old 10-08-2019, 07:51 AM
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Voice Acting collab - legal question


So, quick background. I make audio files designed to be hypnotic. Usually I do this with the help of one or two volunteers. The understanding is that I script, direct, and plot out what's going to be said, they record it, then I edit, mix it with my own recordings and sound effects, and upload it to my Patreon for my fans. There's not a lot of money involved (maybe $120/month on average, and substantially less than that now), so it's understood that these collaborations are unpaid volunteer work.

Well, now someone I've worked with extensively has asked me to take down all of my files with him in them. Given that this amounts to a fairly substantial amount of work on my part, and work that I continue to be very proud of, I would rather not do this. Additionally, this is not the first time this has happened, and I'm quite thoroughly sick of losing work because I had a falling-out with someone who volunteered for me.

My question is, what is my legal standing here? If I refuse to take down the material, does my former volunteer have any cause to sue? File a DMCA claim? Take any legal action against me? (And, in case it's relevant, much of what is recorded is erotic.)

Thanks in advance for any advice.
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Old 10-08-2019, 07:56 AM
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You say that there is an understanding, but is anything in writing?
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Old 10-08-2019, 07:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Budget Player Cadet View Post
My question is, what is my legal standing here? If I refuse to take down the material, does my former volunteer have any cause to sue? File a DMCA claim? Take any legal action against me?
This is where you consult with an attorney who practices this type of law.
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Old 10-08-2019, 08:27 AM
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Since this potentially involves real-world legal issues, let's move this to IMHO (from GQ).
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Old 10-08-2019, 08:56 AM
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IANAL, but my understanding of it is that with nothing in writing, the rights are going to be owned by the content creator. All creative works are automatically copyrighted by their creators at the time of their creation. Nothing needs to be filed for that to happen. With nothing in writing, there is no transfer of rights from this default.

Also, performances are considered artistic works for copyright purposes. Classical music from the 1800s is long out of copyright, but if a modern orchestra performs and records that music, their performance is copyrighted.

Basically, since there is nothing in writing to state otherwise, you own the script, and the voice actor owns the voice performance. You can have a different voice actor perform the same script, but you can't use the original voice files without permission from the performer.

The voice actor can file a DMCA takedown notice against you. She owns the vocal performance. You don't.

As for legal action, given the circumstances, I am guessing that the voice actor never registered the copyright for the voice files. In that case, she is limited to suing you for actual damages. In other words, she can go after that $120 per month, but that's it.

If she did register the copyright on the files, then she can also sue for statutory damages, which could be tens of thousands of dollars, though given the circumstances I would expect the damages ordered by the court to be much smaller than that.

I believe she has 5 years from the work's creation to register the copyright.

And again, I'm an engineer, not a lawyer.
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Old 10-08-2019, 09:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Czarcasm View Post
You say that there is an understanding, but is anything in writing?
There are probably discord chat logs, but if there's anything that specifically discusses the arrangement about who owns what, I can't find 'em.

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Originally Posted by engineer_comp_geek View Post
IANAL, but my understanding of it is that with nothing in writing, the rights are going to be owned by the content creator. All creative works are automatically copyrighted by their creators at the time of their creation. Nothing needs to be filed for that to happen. With nothing in writing, there is no transfer of rights from this default.

Also, performances are considered artistic works for copyright purposes. Classical music from the 1800s is long out of copyright, but if a modern orchestra performs and records that music, their performance is copyrighted.

Basically, since there is nothing in writing to state otherwise, you own the script, and the voice actor owns the voice performance. You can have a different voice actor perform the same script, but you can't use the original voice files without permission from the performer.

The voice actor can file a DMCA takedown notice against you. She owns the vocal performance. You don't.
This is largely what I was concerned about. Thanks for the heads-up.

Any idea what kind of contractual obligations I'd need to prevent this in the future? Would a simple "hey, now that you've recorded this for me, you're ceding the rights to this performance and any derivative creations made from it" suffice?
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Old 10-08-2019, 10:00 AM
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Any idea what kind of contractual obligations I'd need to prevent this in the future? Would a simple "hey, now that you've recorded this for me, you're ceding the rights to this performance and any derivative creations made from it" suffice?
You should really speak with a lawyer. I will say that declaring a person has ceded all the rights *after* they make the recording is too late. They have rights in the recording and you can't make them give up those rights just because you say so.

This is a bit outside my bailiwick but I suspect that it would help you to establish *before* collaborating with other creators that you are hiring them to create a work for hire for which you will retain all the rights. You will need to get that work for hire agreement in writing before working with them. For the work for hire agreement to be a valid contract, there needs to be consideration in both directions, so you should pay them at least some nominal sum. Don't expect that having clear contracts will solve all your disputes though. If your co-creators keep fighting with you, they will continue to make trouble for you even if they don't have a legal leg to stand on.
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Old 10-08-2019, 11:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Tired and Cranky View Post
This is a bit outside my bailiwick but I suspect that it would help you to establish *before* collaborating with other creators that you are hiring them to create a work for hire for which you will retain all the rights. You will need to get that work for hire agreement in writing before working with them. For the work for hire agreement to be a valid contract, there needs to be consideration in both directions, so you should pay them at least some nominal sum.
Yep, signed papers, even for volunteers. As payment, you could provide them with a copy of their work to be used for their demo reel, if they are pursuing additional work in the field.
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Old 10-08-2019, 12:42 PM
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Not getting a contract involved when you had any personal stake in this was your first mistake. Not getting a contract involved when you had any money involved in this was your second mistake, and it was a big one. You're being let off easy by simply being given a request to have them taken down. As others have said, without a contract, that person owns their voice performance, and they have full rights to have you remove it. They could also take this to court over the proceeds earned. I can't believe this keeps happening even though professional artists always seem to be harping on and on and on online about "get the contract in writing, or you will learn the hard way who owns what and who gets what money."

Open talks for licensing negotiations. The voice person will most likely require a cut of the proceeds in order to be happy and let you keep using their voice for profit. The alternative is they don't want money, but they don't want you having their voice either. In that case you're simply out of luck and must take the items down. They have the legal rights here, not you, so it's not your choice.

Last edited by Macca26; 10-08-2019 at 12:44 PM.
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Old 10-08-2019, 12:50 PM
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Can't you just hypnotize the voice actors into signing over all their rights to you?
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Old 10-08-2019, 01:03 PM
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With the low amount of revenue, the only feasible option is to take the recordings down. A vindictive volunteer with deep pockets could lawyer up and cost you a lot of money even if you are completely legal. That's true even if you have a contract.

It might be better not to have the patron and just do it for free. The fact that you are making money off of this may cause resentment in the volunteers and make it more likely they either ask for a cut or want the recordings removed.
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Old 10-08-2019, 03:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Tired and Cranky View Post
You should really speak with a lawyer.
Given the amount of money involved, that really isn't worth my time.

Quote:
I will say that declaring a person has ceded all the rights *after* they make the recording is too late. They have rights in the recording and you can't make them give up those rights just because you say so.
Of course; I mean for future cases, before I spend a lot of effort working their voice into my material.

The next issue is that most of these people are half a globe away and paper contracts for short-term volunteer work sounds... well, again, not worth the effort, neither for me nor for them.

This sucks.
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Old 10-08-2019, 03:35 PM
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Here is the first work for hire agreement I found through a web search: https://www.docracy.com/8209/musicia...hire-agreement

Is it any good? I don't know. A competent lawyer could assist you. If you can't afford a real lawyer, I suspect it's better than nothing. If I were using that agreement, I would at least replace "Employer" with "Creator" everywhere it comes up to reduce confusion about whether you are intending to create an employee/employer relationship.

You can have them sign and submit the document electronically even if they are a whole world away. For example, they could print it, sign it, scan it as a pdf, and send it back to you.
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