First off, I am not a “Gleek”; however after watching a recent episode with my family, I got to thinking about what a great illustration about copyright law that the show and the production of the show provides.

The first issue that came to mind was – beside the producers of Glee, who is making money off the music?  Under US copyright law, royalties for music generally fall into three categories: (1) For reproductions (CD, downloading), (2) Grand Performance Rights (commonly known as sync rights), and (3) performance rights (radio play). There are other categories but rest assured sure I doubt that copies of “Glee for ukulele” sheet music is making ton of money.

So let’s use a hypothetical, let’s say I have a band and we record and make popular a new song written solely by our bassist. The bassist is the sole copyright holder. Under our recording agreement, all the band members get a percentage of all sales of their recording of the song. However under copyright law, the bassist / songwriter also received a mechanical royalty (disregarding controlled compositions clauses) and is paid for every time it plays on the radio.

Now let’s suppose we work hard and promote ourselves, and the song gains just enough popularity that the folks at Glee decide that they want their precocious group of oppressed teenage songbirds to break into song (and coincidentally mimic the exact style of the original recording) – Glee will pay the songwriter/bassist a synchronization fee (for putting it into a TV show)[not everyone jumps at the chance, BTW], and mechanical fees for including it on a cast recordings. Additionally, the Performing Rights Organizations (ASCAP, BMI, etc)will collect royalties for the songwriter/bassist for every time the cast recording is played on the radio. The drummer, lead singer, and guitarist get zilch.

So as sales dry-up for the original recording, our songwriting bassist gets paid over and over again while the band’s hard-working drummer is left out in the cold with only the comfort that the Cast of Glee are themselves complaining that they aren’t getting paid enough in royalties for their recording of the very same song.

More “Glee on Copyright” to come.