Can I Copyright My Playlist? February 23, 2015

This week we host the Atlanta Trademark Lawyer Robert J. (“Jeff”) Veal (the other Ragin’ Cajun) for some Q & A. I ask the Q’s, he gives the A’s. You should listen up. Why? Jeff Veal is a 30 year veteran of intellectual property law, having counseled thousands of clients on patents, copyrights, and trademarks. His trademark practice alone has encompassed clients in almost every commercial endeavor, and has brought him before several Federal and State Courts across the U.S. of A. Don’t want some scrub to steal your pictures? Trying to keep the wedding chapel down the street from using your logo? Jeff is the man to call. But before you call him, read what he has to say first.

QUESTION: I’m a DJ. Can I copyright my playlists and/or remixes?

ANSWER (from Attorney Robert J-Town Veal):  There are two questions here because a playlist and a remix are two different things.  A remix is a derivative work that builds upon and improves a previous work, such as a of an old song.  Only the copyright owner of the original song has the right to prepare a derivative work, but, assuming the underlying copyright owners are properly compensated,  you could have a copyright in the remix as to those parts of the derivative work that are novel beyond the original work.   The author or authors of the underlying work retain their rights to their original work.

A playlist doesn’t improve or build upon a previous work, but rather orders the works for presentation.  Copyright law covers creativity in expression, thus common lists such as telephone directories are not subject to copyright protection because they lack creativity even though compiling them entails a lot of work.  A playlist may entail mental effort and perhaps be creative, but it is likely that a court would say that there is no expression conveyed in a playlist.  I have not found any cases dealing with copyright in a play list so I am just giving you an opinion, which means that a court may say that minimal expression is sufficient to merit copyright protection.  My opinion remains no copyright on a playlist.