Wednesday, March 6, 2024

BEWARE: OpenAI's "Sora" Text-To-Video AI Model May Be The Most Dangerous Threat Yet!

Sora is an AI model from OpenAI that can create realistic video scenes from simple text instructions. As such, Sora is bound to raise a myriad of potential intellectual property issues as well as name and likeness and invasion of privacy issues depending on the extent to which it is exploited by the user.

OpenAI states that Sora can generate videos up to a minute long while maintaining visual quality and adherence to the user’s prompts. Sora is able to generate complex scenes with multiple characters, specific types of motion, and accurate details of the subject and background. The AI model can understand not only what the user has asked for in the prompt but also how those things exist in the physical world, and it has an understanding of language enabling it to accurately interpret prompts and generate compelling characters that express human emotions. Sora can also create multiple shots within a single generated video that accurately demonstrate and enhance characters and visual style. With all of the photos and information available on social media and the internet at Sora's disposal, the possibilities are endless. 

Most concerning is that, like ChatGPT and other AI applications, the more Sora is used to more it will learn, grow and advance to become better and smarter at production - so it seems inevitable that Sora will eventually have the ability to produce HD-quality and feature-length film productions.

For example, the user can write a sentence stating details such as "it was a dark and stormy night when through the foggy window of a castle we see a maniacal scientist flipping a switch to bring a robot to life" - and the more detailed the description the more detailed the video Sora can provide with photo-quality production. Initially this may appear innocuous enough enabling a parent to easily turn their child's playtime story into a video or allow a struggling screenwriter who might never otherwise get a film produced to use Sora to create a feature length film. However, as some commentators have pointed out, taking it a step further, a corporation might try to take an image of someone famous (or just anyone attractive they think might help sell their product), and then have Sora create a video commercial showing that person endorsing the product and promoting it. On the darker end, a co-worker could create a video of a fellow employee appearing to do all sorts of illicit activities and then anonymously bring it to the attention of the employer. Imagine the chaos that could be created in the political arena (as if there is not already enough confusion and misinformation in circulation). Or worse, imagine all of the carnal, erotic activities that could be generated by a user (or even a stalker) to make any person in their sights appear to be doing anything the user's imagination can conjure. 

AI has already disrupted copyright law norms for creators particularly in the music space, and has challenged established intellectual property concepts in the entertainment world and beyond. Sora would seem to be poised to expand those problems exponentially. Without some type of common sense regulations in place, whether from the government or the industry (or a combination thereof), Sora could be used by the most vile of individuals to create videos that could defile, mislead and scare people, or even instigate riots based on the appearance of something that is completely fabricated but entirely realistic in appearance. 

It might not be long before there is more clarity on the matter since lawsuits will inevitably make their way through the courts, and these cases may establish some parameters for the use of Sora. Like other current AI platforms, Sora is somewhat crude and imperfect, but by design AI improves and gets “smarter” the more it is used. Sora may still be in the early horse & buggy stage now, but it is quickly advancing to the Tesla level - at which point chaos is very likely to ensue. 

Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney based in New York. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. 

Thursday, January 18, 2024


The 1976 Copyright Act provides for the termination of copyright transfers. It entitles content creators to reclaim their copyrights - regardless of any contract stating otherwise –after certain time periods. So, even if an author, artist, musician, photographer or songwriter signed a contract which purports to transfer all rights in a work for perpetuity, the Copyright Act provides that the author of the work (or the author's heirs) can terminate that grant and demand that the rights revert in a shorter period of time. Authors and creators are now entitled to terminate their contractual transfers and demand back control of their copyrights: authors can terminate their book publishing contracts, songwriters can demand return of their musical compositions from music publishers and recording artists and record producers can demand return of their sound recordings from the record companies.

Generally speaking, for copyright grants made on or after January 1, 1978 (the effective date of the 1976 Copyright Act) the termination period is 35 years under Section 203 of the Copyright Act. For pre-1978 works Section 304(c) of the Copyright Act, says that a copyright owner (or his or her heirs) can terminate all grants, licenses or transfers of beginning on the 56th year after that assignment was made. Termination may be exercised anytime during a 5 year period beginning at the end of either the 35 year or 56 year period from the execution of the grant (as applicable) or, if the pre-1978 grant concerns the right of publication of the work, then the period begins on the sooner of 35 years after publication or 40 years after execution of the grant. Although there are certain formalities which must be complied with to effectuate transfer, this essentially means that recording artists and songwriters were entitled to start exercising their right of termination on post-1978 works as of the start of 2013. 

The big exception to the termination right is if a work was done as a "work-for-hire.” Section 101 of the Copyright Act of 1976 delineates what types of works by their nature are incontestably works for hire. It is essentially a two part test: (1) was the work created by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, and; (2) if not, is it (a) one of the nine enumerated work-for-hire classes of works and (b) is there a written agreement signed by the author acknowledging the work for hire relationship. Included on the list of nine enumerated categories of works that are works for hire are collective works, compilations and motion pictures. Not included on this list are books, photographs, songs and sound recordings.

There are ongoing legal battles over how termination rights affect the book, comic book and motion picture fields. Not unexpectedly, the entertainment business companies are not pleased with the copyright termination provision and the inevitable ramifications thereof.

With respect to songs and music publishers, some litigation has already been decided. In Scorpio Music S.A. v. Willis (Case No. 11 CV 1557 (C.D. CA 2012), California Federal District Judge Moskowitz determined that original Village People member, Victor Willis, could terminate his transfers and recapture a direct copyright interest in many of his group's songs, including "YMCA." In this case, after Willis notified Scorpio that he was terminating the prior transfers, Scorpio sued arguing that Willis could not terminate because a majority of each song's authors had not also agreed to terminate their transfers. The court sided with Willis, ruling that an author can unilaterally terminate the transfer of his share in a copyrighted work without his co-writers.  Although the Scorpio decision addressed a fairly narrow point concerning multi-author transfers, the decision opens the way for most songwriters to get their composition copyrights returned and sets the stage for the bigger battles looming on the recorded music side of the business. The copyright termination procedures apply to the separate and equally lucrative sound recording copyrights transferred to record labels as part of typical recording artist contracts over the years. Since the term “sound recordings” is not explicitly contained in the enumerated work for hire category list, practitioners representing record companies will need to try to find other ways to justify any claim that sound recordings are indeed works for hire in order to preclude termination by artists.

The termination rights of the author or creator of a copyrighted work are generally subject to a 5 year window. Termination must be made effective within the termination window or the right to terminate the grant is forfeited. To be effective, the author must serve a written notice of termination on the original record company or publisher (and/or any successors) no more than 10 and no less than 2 years prior to the effective date stated in the notice. The notice of termination must state the effective date of termination. Perfection of the termination requires that a copy of the written notice also be filed with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the effective date of termination.

Although the termination rights of an artist under the 1976 Copyright Act would only be effective for the U.S. territory, the size of the U.S. consumer market still makes this a valuable right to reclaim.            

Wallace Collins is an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer based in New York. He was a songwriter and teenage recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School
Tel: (212) 661-3656; 

Monday, October 9, 2023


           Under the US copyright law, although ideas alone are not protectable, an author or creator owns a copyright in his or her work the moment the author’s expression of the idea is 'fixed in a tangible medium' (i.e., when the expression of an idea is written down or recorded in some manner). Once created, a copyright extends for the life of the author plus 70 years, and in the case of collaborators on a copyright it extends for the life of the last surviving collaborator plus 70 years.

        This article will focus on the collaboration between and among creators of TV shows, movie scripts, books and theatrical plays. The essence of collaboration is the creators working together to create a single work regardless of how or what each party contributes. Collaborators may work together in the same room at the same time, or not. The creative contribution of each co-author may be equal in quality or quantity, or not. Both authors may work together on the total work, or each might write separate chapters or scenes (or in the case of a book or audio/visual production, one might write words or dialogue while the other is an artist doing graphics and illustrations, etc.)  The long history of collaboration has shown that there are endless combinations. Co-authors do not need to have a written agreement concerning their joint work, but it is probably a good idea to do so given the myriad issues that can arise and become a problem under such circumstances.

            Co-authors can divide copyright ownership in whatever proportion they determine and that ownership concerns both the rights (i.e., ownership and control) and the revenues (i.e, income generated from the work). In the absence of a written agreement, under current case law concerning both copyright and partnership law, two or more collaborators are generally deemed to share equally on a pro-rata basis. This might be so even if it is clear that the contributions of the authors were not equal since the Courts generally prefer not to make decisions about the value of each author’s contribution to a copyright and simply divide it pro rata by the number of authors (and we probably prefer that Courts not be making decisions about whether the writing in one scene or a particular chapter has more or less value than that of another, etc.). Therefore, without a written agreement two authors would be deemed to own the song fifty-fifty, three writers one-third each, etc.

            Beyond the issue of just dividing the income, there arises the issue of copyright ownership and control. In the absence of a written collaboration agreement or other contract stating otherwise, each author retains control over its respective share of the copyright. In this way each writer retains some control over what happens with the work, the scope of any uses, contracts or licenses and how much is charged. Under
US copyright law, co-authorship is akin to partnership law whereby each joint copyright owner can exploit the work and also grant non-exclusive licenses to third parties, subject to the duty to account to the co-authors for any money that is generated.

            Another important question that can arise is what happens if two or more authors start to collaborate on a work and then one departs before the work is completed. This can raise complex legal issues concerning whether the contribution of the departing author is copyrightable and whether the parties had a clear intent to work together to create an indivisible copyrighted work. There have been fact-specific cases that have addressed this situation with differing outcomes depending on different circumstances. In one case, one party had the idea for the play and engaged another party to do more of the actual writing. There was no written agreement, and the parties had a dispute about the direction of the project. The idea party departed and the writing party continued on to complete and produce the work. Later, the departing party sued claiming authorship and co-ownership of the copyright in the work. In that particular case, the Court determined that, since ideas alone are not protectable under copyright law, only the expression of the idea was subject to copyright, therefore, only the writing party had copyright ownership. The departing party had proposed the original idea for the project and had made suggestions along the way, but the contributions were insufficient to create copyrightable material. Therefore, since there was no written agreement to indicate otherwise, the Court determined that only the writing party had an ownership interest in the copyright to the work that the parties had started together. 

            All of these issues can be addressed in a written collaboration agreement. There are endless variations depending on the circumstances. A collaboration agreement can be as simple as a pie chart drawing made on a napkin over coffee at the diner after the writing session, or as complicated as a writer’s publishing company or TV/film production company dictates that it be.

            At the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your talents, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and invest in good legal representation - all the successful creators do. Your lawyer can create a fair collaboration agreement for you to use or your lawyer can 'translate' the documentation presented to you and explain its terms and then help negotiate more favorable terms for you as appropriate. 

            My advice: never sign anything - other than an autograph - without having your lawyer review it first.

Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656;; 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Thinking Out Loud about the Blurred Lines in Current Copyright Law

As a copyright lawyer, my opinion is that the "Blurred Lines" decision should have been overturned on appeal. However, the more recent victory for Ed Sheeran in the "Thinking Out Loud" copyright case probably has the same net effect, and will mute the prospective ramifications of the "Blurred Lines" decision.

The genre or musical style of a song is not specifically protectable under the language of the copyright statute nor the relevant case law. In most cases, the lyrics and the melody are what is at issue, and whether there was copying or substantial similarity between the lyrics or melody of one song and the other. However, that was not the allegation in the "Blurred Lines" case. The essence of the claim was that defendants copied the groove and style of the Marvin Gaye song "Got To Give It Up" when they created "Blurred Lines", and I did not believe that the jury's decision should be upheld on appeal as a matter of copyright law.

In modern popular music it is understandable that current artists are effectively midgets standing on the shoulders of giants in order to reach new heights... and some similarities are bound to appear in the new works so created. However, when it comes to the particulars and technicalities of copyright law, emotions (particularly envy and jealousy) are usually not well-suited to reaching a correct resolution (and that applies to the jury as well as to the many pundit opinions that proliferated after the Blurred Lines decision).

Prior to the Ed Sheeran "Thinking Out Loud" decision, my research indicated that the "Blurred Lines" case was the only copyright infringement lawsuit in which no specific melody or lyrics were alleged to have been copied. The apparent 'that songs reminds me of another song' threshold suggested by the "Blurred Lines" jury decision could potentially have established a new legal standard. If that was the new threshold for copyright infringement, a lot of modern artists as well as 60's British artists (from the Beatles on across the spectrum) could have been in legal trouble. The floodgates for such litigation could have been flung open.

For now, however, it appears Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" case will mute the effect of the "Blurred Lines" decision and hold back what could have been a flood of potential lawsuits - at least for now.

Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer handling contract negotiation and general copyright and trademark law matters in the music, film, television, book, fine arts and technology areas. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before graduating from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656;; 

Monday, September 18, 2023


The question these days for musical performing artists seems to be whether it is better to do it yourself ("DIY") or sign with a major record company. The answer is: it depends.

It used to be, back in the 1970s, '80s, '90s and even into the start of the new millennium, that the major record companies had talent scouts scouring the country and searching the clubs for talent. There were layers of A&R staff at major labels (A&R stands for “artist and repertoire”) who were often producers that would take artists into studios and make recordings. That way a record label could find out what an artist might sound like on record before proceeding further. The A&R staff would also review songs from publishers and songwriters to choose “hits” for the artists already signed to the label to record. Sometimes artist managers and lawyers would pitch talent to the A&R personnel, a process which was commonly referred to as “shopping” an artist to a label. For the most part, those days are done.

These days the A&R staff could more accurately be referred to as R&D (research and development). They no longer need to scour the clubs or take demos shopped to them by managers and lawyers. Artists can make state of the art recordings in their homes and distribute it digitally with the push of a button. The labels can search the internet and websites like TikTok and YouTube to see what artists are garnering interest from the public. These days, a new artist's mission is more about creating a “buzz” with an online presence and doing live shows to build a fan following. The record companies are interested in analyzing data before they take an interest in investing time and money in a project.

The major labels are now less about finding and developing raw talent and more about marketing and promoting the artists that have developed themselves and built the widest public appeal. Rather than bring new artists into the studio to work with them, the labels tend to find artists that are already performing live and drawing crowds, and already have at least some recordings commercially released and available online. Since an artist can create good quality recordings in a home studio, and easily upload music for commercial release through any number of online distributors, any artist can make music and get it out to the public without the need for a major record label’s assistance. The labels actually want the DIY artist to develop its sound and test market itself. When there is interest from the public, voluminous hits on an artist’s website or YouTube video, substantial sales of the artist’s music, and long lines at the live shows, then the major labels start sniffing around. The contractual downside of signing with a major record company is that in most cases their contracts assign ownership of your copyrights to the company in exchange for funding (an advance and a promise of royalties); the DIY artist can retain ownership of its copyrights and then use and exploit them to generate income.

On the up side, as an independent artist these days you can make and distribute your own recordings online through the digital streaming services and promote the music through social media and with live performances - and keep 100% of the copyrights and 100% of the profits. In the "good old days" an artist needed a record company to fund the recordings in state-of-the-art recording studios and then print, warehouse and ship the physical records to brick and mortar stores. Before Spotify, AppleMusic and other digital streaming services, radio was the only gateway to the public, and you needed a record company to market and promote the music to radio. You no longer need to go that route. You can do it yourself if you prefer.

If the DIY route is not for you, then you still need to do some legwork to get the attention of a major record company. What you, as an artist, need to do, first and foremost, is work on your art. That can be a combination of writing great songs, making great recordings, making interesting videos and creating a great live show – any and all of those things. You need to build your websites and develop your social media in order to link your fans to your work so that the public can hear your music and see your performances. An artist needs to create a “buzz”, create excitement and interest for what the artist is doing creatively. Some artists do it with a killer song and others do it with an interesting video. You need to create something unique and interesting that the public just cannot resist. It is not easy. It takes hard work and perseverance – and requires a little luck to get attention. However, if the alternative is to give up and go work in a grocery store or some other day job, then you might as well hone your craft and give it all you have to try to create something that demands that people pay attention. Then, if you want, you will get signed to a major record company that will, hopefully, help fund your expanding efforts and spread your artistry to a broader audience around the world.

Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer handling contract negotiation and general copyright and trademark law matters in the music, film, television, book, fine arts and technology areas. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before graduating from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656; 

Tuesday, August 1, 2023


Many clients still ask about whether or not they can "sample" from an existing sound recording and how much is permissible to use, and whether or not they need permission to embody a sample in their new sound recording.

Sampling occurs when a portion of a prior sound recording or fixation of sound is incorporated into a new sound recording. When such a use occurs two copyrights are involved: the copyright in the sound recording and in the underlying musical composition embodied in such recording (i.e., the song). If sampling occurs without permission, copyright infringement of both the sound recording (usually owned by the record company and/or artist) and the song (usually owned by the publishing company and/or songwriter) has occurred.
In order to legally use a sample, you need to contact both the owner of the sound recording and the copyright owner of the underlying musical work for permission. License fees for sampling vary greatly and depend on how much of the sample you intend to use, the perceived value of the recording you intend to sample from, and the intended use of the sample in your song. Licenses can be granted "gratis" but usually there is a fee which is either a percentage of the record royalties and/or the mechanical royalties or for a flat fee paid upon execution of the sample license agreement (or a combination of both). There are no statutorily mandated rates for samples so the copyright owner can charge whatever the copyright owner wants to charge and does not have to grant permission to use his work at all.
Using samples without permission can lead to litigation where an infringer may be forced to pay damages to the copyright owner which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars per infringement. A court can also order you to recall and destroy all of your infringing copies and, in certain cases, can award the costs and legal fees incurred by the prevailing party in such a lawsuit.
Although the "2 Live Crew"/"Pretty Woman" infringement case turned on the issue of "fair use", I do not recommend to clients that they try to rely on that copyright law doctrine when they want to use a sample in their work. And the idea that you can use a certain number of notes or seconds of someone's song without penalty is a myth. 

One other issue is what is known as "interpolation" which refers to using a melody - or portions of a melody - from a previously recorded song, but re-recording it instead of sampling the original. Interpolation is used when the artist or label who owns the sound recording declines to license the sample or if licensing the sample is considered too costly. Unfortnately, this work around avoids using the sound recording copyright but may still implicate the underlying song copyright. In many cases, similar to samples, interpolations may infringe a copyright owner's exclusive rights in the song. However, unlike samples, since interpolations only implicate the preexisting musical composition then only a license from the musical work's copyright owner may be necessary.

Bottom line: the only proper way to use a sample of a prior recording in your recording is to get permission. 

Wallace E.J. Collins III is an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer based in New York. He was a teenage recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. Tel: (212) 661-3656; 

Monday, February 27, 2023


The headlines these days are full of stories about artificial intelligence (“AI”). It seems AI has gone from science fiction to reality in a very short period of time. From Open AI’s ChatGPT app to Google’s MusicLM music creation tool, the future is now. A few decades back the struggle over digital rights and copyrights was a sideshow, of concern only to a relatively small slice of the population. Now, however, everyone is online, which means that even if you don’t consider yourself a creator as such, material you write, post or share could become part of an AI engine and used in ways you never imagined. To wit, several of my clients have recently raised concerns about the threat of AI, and the threat AI may pose to authors, artists (both fine and graphic artists) as well as songwriters and musicians… so let me try to break it down.

The tech behind AI is a complicated, but at its most basic AI engines ingest massive data sets, which they then use to train software that can make recommendations or even generate code, art, or text. Sometimes the engines are scouring the web for these data sets so they can learn what is on a webpage and catalog it for search queries; other times, AI engines have access to huge proprietary data sets built in part by the text, photos, and videos users have posted on their respective platforms. Unlike the music piracy lawsuits of decades ago, the AI engines are not making copies of the data they use and distributing them under the same name. The legal issues, for now, tend to be about how the data got into the engines in the first place and who has the right to use that data.

AI proponents argue that AI engines can learn from existing data sets without permission because there is no law against learning, and that turning one set of data into something entirely different is protected by the law, as affirmed by a lengthy court fight that Google won against authors and publishers who sued the company over its book index, which cataloged and excerpted a huge swath of books. Those against AI argue that if AI is going to use original material created by others then the AI engines should get a license from the original author or creator, or from whoever owns the copyright. Otherwise, the AI engines are violating the rights of the authors and creators of the underlying materials and, even if the result is not an exact copy of the underlying work (think “sampling” in music), the resulting AI product would not exist “but for” the underlying work and the use of the AI work competes with the artists or creators’ ability to make a living.

As of now, the US Copyright Office has stated that it will not accept a copyright registration on any work of authorship created using AI. However, there is still the issue of whether the resulting AI creation infringes the copyrights of other authors when it incorporates the work of the original authors into a new AI work or some sort (regardless of how remote or miniscule the resulting use in the new AI-generated work). Using the MusicLM system as an example, the Google researchers noted that MusicLM did have a tendency to incorporate copyrighted material from training data into the generated songs. During an experiment, they found that about 1% of the music the MusicLM system generated was directly replicated from the songs on which it trained (a threshold apparently high enough to discourage them from releasing MusicLM to the public in its current state).

Assuming MusicLM or an AI system like it is one day made available, it seems inevitable that it will give rise to major legal issues, even if the systems are marketed as tools to assist artists rather than replace them. AI music generators violate music copyright by creating a mosaic of coherent audio from prior works they ingest in training, thereby infringing the US Copyright Act’s reproduction right. Similar concerns have been raised around the training data used in image, code and text-generating AI systems, which is often scoured from the web without creators’ knowledge. New works generated by an AI system would arguably be considered derivative works, in which case only the original elements of the AI-generated work would be protected by copyright (although it is unclear what might be considered “original” in such a context).

It might not be long before there is more clarity on the matter. Several lawsuits are making their way through the courts which will likely have a bearing on music-generating AI, including one pertaining to the rights of artists whose work is used to train artificial intelligence systems without their knowledge or consent.

Current AI platforms are crude and imperfect, but by design AI improves and gets “smarter” the more it is used. AI may still be in the early horse & buggy stage - but AI could quickly advance to the Tesla level. Authors, creators and artists beware!


Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney based in New York. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School.