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August 25, 2014

Death of a Radio Station Format: The Band Plays On.

By Steven Z. Raber

It is well known that the competition for ears in the commercial radio world is quite intense. Radio stations around the world have resorted to various kinds of stunts to attract listeners.

It was recently reported that a Canadian radio station had implemented a format featuring shorter versions of songs. The station touted its new format as giving listeners twice the music. The station’s owner reportedly bragged that the new short-song format was a first for a radio station in Canada and perhaps the world.

After three weeks, the radio station reverted to its previous format. The reason? There were threats of lawsuits on behalf of a number of unnamed musical artists. Although a spokesperson for the station put up a brave front and stated the short-song format is a good one and that it could be brought back in the future, this would appear unlikely. Here’s why.

Under Canada’s Copyright Act, two distinct rights are given. First, as the name of the statute implies, the legislation creates an exclusive right to make copies to the owner of the copyright. As such, works of all types can only be copied by persons that own the copyright in them or by others who obtain permission or licenses from the owner.

In addition to copyright, the Copyright Act creates a second kind of rights called “moral rights”. Under the statute, the author of a work has the right to be associated with the work as its author by name, under a pseudonym, or to be anonymous.

In addition, the author of a work has the right to maintain the integrity of the work. That is to say, the work cannot be manipulated without the permission of the author. Unlike copyright, moral rights cannot be assigned. They can only be waived.

As the radio station was altering songs it was playing in order to meet its new short-song format, it would appear that it was infringing the moral rights of the musical artists whose works were being shortened.

In the absence of waivers of moral rights, therefore, artists may control how their works are made available to the public. For this reason, those who collect music must remember that although legally acquired recordings may be played many times over, their content cannot be manipulated without the permission of the artists.

Steven Z. Raber, LL.B., F.I.P.I.C., is a lawyer, trained mediator and registered trademark agent. He may be reached by direct telephone at (204) 957-8304 or by email at stevenraber@fillmoreriley.com

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