• Manojna Yeluri

Coffee for Contracts FAQ 2019

It’s been another edition of #coffeeforcontracts and I would like to personally thank each and every one of you who supported the initiative with your kind words, enthusiasm to share the message, and gracious offers of buying me coffee. 

I started Coffee For Contracts in the hope that it would create more opportunities for comfortable, honest dialogue between creators and lawyers – if anything, this edition seems to have only reaffirmed my faith in the creative community and the power of sharing experiences. 

While every person’s experience is unique, there do seem to be certain themes and concerns, common to many creative professionals who reached out. In an effort to share some of these concerns, without having to compromise on anonymity, this post summarises and sets out some of the most frequently asked questions, shared via emails and messages. I hope that these FAQs offer food for thought and answers to any of you with similar concerns. 

1) What is the difference between a copyright and a trademark? 

I received quite a few variations of this question, making it one of the most popular queries amongst a lot of us in the creative community. Put very simply, a copyright is a creator’s right of ownership over their creation. Depending on its nature, it can be considered an artistic work, a literary work, a musical work, a sound recording, a cinematographic work, or a dramatic work. Most often, a single creation will fall into multiple categories – for eg., a song can be broken down into the musical work (composition or melody), literary work (lyrical content), and a sound recording (produced musical work). 

Now besides categories, it’s important we understand that every copyright, can be further broken down into multiple rights. This means that as the owner, you have the right(s) over how your work is going to be distributed, or broadcasted, or translated, and so forth. So in many ways, a copyright is the actual right of control and direction over the usage of your work. 

A trademark is the right to protect a name or design and claim it as your own – for eg., something that you might consider a brand name or logo. A trademark works for a whole range of things including product names, company logos, pseudonyms, band names and so on. 

2) How do we go about copyright and trademark registrations?

Between us, registering either involves a certain amount of investment (of time and money), and while the process is easy enough, it is one that ought to be done carefully in order to avoid any unnecessary delays. Having said that, if you’re from a country that is a signatory to something called the Berne Convention, then you have the advantage of what is known as automatic registration. And in very simple terms, this means that so long as your work is original and creative, you are in fact, claim copyright over it. You can always find more information on copyright.gov.in or your country’s corresponding resource. 

3) Do you need a contract when working with sessions musicians?

The answer is always a yes. When you work with sessions musicians, you have to understand that you’re basically hiring professionals to contribute their services for your project. So in essence, they are working for hire and their job ends once you are happy with the services they have provided you. Having a contract in place, keeps these terms clear so that in the future, no one has expectations that are ambiguous. Also, as a legitimate creator and owner of an intellectual property, it’s up to you to make sure that you’ve got your ‘paper-trail’ in order. I’ve seen a fair number of record deals that insist the artist they are signing up, has all their paper work in order, and this includes getting sign offs and releases from the folks they have worked with.

4) What’s a moral right?

So a moral right is a right that’s very crucial to all creators – it basically works alongside your other rights, like the copyright. A moral right, as the name suggests, is based on the idea that a creator’s work is an extension of themselves, and so deserves a certain degree of care when trying to determine proper source credits, representation and display. A moral right might seem a little woo-woo, but I am here to say that it most certainly isn’t. As a matter of fact, moral rights can be hugely important for indie artists and creators, who might enter into a deal to sign off all their rights, but keep their moral rights, as a way to stay connected to the display and usage of their work. Now a lot of contracts do ask you to waive the right to enforce your moral rights, and while I don’t recommend the same, I will also say ‘each-to-their-own’, and implore you to make informed decisions. 

5) As a creator of a board game, what are some of the ways in which I can protect the game, the artwork and the gameplay?

So with a board game, you’ve got a lot of elements at play – there’s the art work, the characters and story line, the gameplay and certain key words that determine the direction of the game. The art work being an artistic work, can be protected under a copyright, as can the characters. The story line can be protected as a literary work under copyright. Now while you can’t actually protect the way the game is played, you can protect these special elements that make your game unique. And to top it all off, you ought to trademark your game’s name and maybe certain catch phrases that the game play might require you to say out loud or write down. 

6) What can I do in the case of informal companies being set up and founder disputes?

Many of us are creating companies and partnerships, that don’t necessarily find themselves being registered. So what happens when you find yourself in the middle of a dispute with a partner or founder? Dealing with such cases can be especially tricky, and so I believe that it’s always a good idea to get your company or partnership registered. You can have a CA help you with it. Having said that, it’s always a good idea to draw up a simple memorandum of understanding, and if you’re in the middle of an argument, always aim to resolve it amicably. Try alternative dispute resolution mechanisms like mediation, which really focus on trying to unravel an argument, in the calmest and most unbiased way possible, but without feeling clinical and cold about it. 

This #Coffeeforcontracts FAQ is a collection of some of the more interesting and recurring queries that I received during July 2019. I hope that this offers some answers to your questions, and should you have more, please stay tuned as I am brainstorming other ways to make this initiative a little bit more accessible to everyone, all year round, along with other kinds of useful information.