Do you own your IP?
Updated: Feb 22
Fans of Taylor Swift would have noted that the pop/country superstar has recently dropped a re-recorded “Love Story” (aptly re-titled "Love Story (Taylor's Version)") as the lead single from Fearless (Taylor's Version), the re-recording of her 2008 studio album.
This new development follows the long-running Taylor Swift-Scooter Braun drama when Braun’s company Ithaca Holdings sold off the hot potato being Swift’s master recordings of her first 6 albums in November 2020. For quite a while now, the singer-songwriter has been trying to buy back her master recordings, but to no success. Learning that her nemesis would profit from any future sale of her master recordings, it appears that Swift has made the hard decision to not pursue the matter further and instead, go ahead with the re-recording of her older works.
For the uninitiated, master recordings are the original copies from which physical/digital copies are duplicated and sold/streamed. While regular folks may simply assume that the artistes own the master recordings of their songs in addition to their 12-bathroom mansions and pink Maseratis, in reality, these master recordings are usually owned by the record labels who manage the artistes.
When signing on new and upcoming talent, record labels usually require that artistes assign the master recordings of their work to them in exchange for making them colossal musical cash cows. Usually, the record labels own the master recordings until the copyright duration expires, but for a while now, artistes have pushed for a shorter duration before these rights return to them, or not assigning the rights to the record labels at all for a smaller amount of royalties.
If songwriters don’t necessarily own the songs which they have composed, this leads us to question a fact most of us would assume has straightforward answers: Do you own the rights to your intellectual creations? Let us have a brief look at IP ownership in Malaysia.
For most artistic works such as books, songs, and videos, the rights to these works are generally owned by the author, unless the work was commissioned by another person. Then it’s owned by the person who commissioned the work.
For example, if one were to pay a struggling artist a bag of peanuts and ‘exposure’ in exchange for an artwork painted using the artist’s lifeblood, the rights to the painting will belong to the client. The client will be free to display the painting in his house, charge people to see his painting, or place it under the hammer in a Sotheby’s auction. The artist, in this case, only gets a limited amount of rights, such as the right to be named as the artist who painted the painting, and the right to prevent others from defacing his/her painting.
Of course, like in the earlier musician-record label example, if there is a contract in place between the author and employer or person who commissioned the work, then the terms of the contract will take precedence. So if the contract states that the author retains all ownership rights to the work, then the rights will remain with the author.
If you have invented a new force field face shield that allows people to go maskless but not spread the Covid bug around, you, as the inventor, own the rights to your invention, unless your were employed/commissioned to perform inventive work for an employer/client. In this case whatever invention which was made during the course of your employment will belong to the employer. Should you wish to keep the rights to your invention, there must be an agreement in place between you and your employer/client that says so.
Now, if you are a student undergoing a post-graduate course in a university, you may have signed an agreement to assign all intellectual property rights arising from your research work to the university. This is because the university is not your employer (you’re paying them, in fact!) so under Malaysian patent law, the rights would have resided with you if you did not assign them to the university.
In the same manner, a designer owns the rights to the designs which (s)he created, unless the designer was engaged by an employer/client to perform design work. Again, only if there is an agreement in place stating that the designer retains his/her rights to the design work would the rights remain with the designer. Otherwise, they would be deemed to belong to the employer or person who commissioned the design.
So in general, the rights to a work will belong to its creator, but if the creator was employed/commissioned by another to create that work, then that work belongs to the one who employed/commissioned the creator. Of course, specific circumstances will change who owns the work, so it’s best to consult an IP professional to be sure.
Not sure if you own the rights to your intellectual creations? Why not drop us a holler? After all, we’re here to help.