The reason, such as it was, was to look into the legalities around "publishing" recordings of individual singers added to backing tracks. When I mentioned (possibly) finally getting around to building a MySpace presence, princesskiti22 suggested putting recordings of singers on the page.
It seemed like something on the edge of violation (there's both the songwriter and karaoke copyright, the work is only slightly modified, they wouldn't be losing sales, and I wouldn't be making money, but I would receive an advertising benefit...), so I started looking. I of course can't find much on the subject. But I can find a lot of BS otherwise.
Copyright with regards to karaoke is a fairly open issue, largely because there's not a huge amount of case law. The problem with the English law system is that, unless there's a specific piece of legislation that applies directly to you, the question isn't going to be settled until someone has fought it out in court.
You just have to hope that the person doing the fighting doesn't end up being you.
The top issue is that karaoke kinda falls in the cracks between definitions. At some point in the jungles of the 20th century, differences were defined between "phonorecords" and "sync media." In other words, music vs. movies. Stricter protections were created for movies, for reasons that likely have to do with heavy lobbying.
It's been unclear which side of the fence karaoke falls on - especially since there is apparently an allowance for lyrics to accompany a phonorecord (liner notes, anyone?). There's been a recent court decision that leans it towards sync media, but that's apparently being challenged.
A great example here is the case of "space-shifting." The fairly decisive Diamond Rio case decided that converting your CDs and LPs to a digital format, then storing that on a player, wasn't so much copying the work as "space-shifting" it to a more convenient form. Without that decision, the iPod wouldn't exist today.
But that decision was for phonorecords. There's no similar case law for karaoke, and though one can very reasonably argue that it's essentially the same thing, one can also argue it otherwise.
So I had the joy of wading through a lot of people's professional - and unprofessional - opinions.
For one thing, I made the mistake of going to the KAPA website. I'm not sure why I bothered, but it didn't help my blood pressure.
KAPA is largely a mask for Sound Choice, though it's possible others have joined it since. The management at Sound Choice has... issues. It's an odd company. On the one hand, they have consistently good quality in their backing tracks, which makes them very popular, and allows them to charge a decent price.
On the other hand, they've always had control issues. For the longest time, they would only allow retailers to sell their discs at a minimum price that was near 50% higher than their competitors. Their high quality meant they still had sales, but it apparently never occurred to their marketing department that letting the market drive the price down closer to the wholesale value might, y'know, drive up volume.
And they have been consistently convinced that they'd be making a lot more money if it weren't for all that piracy. Which is, I'm fairly convinced, a lot less true than they think.
Piracy in the karaoke industry is a real problem. I can go on Craigslist right now, and find an ad for a preloaded hard drive. I once knew a KJ (Tom... something... hmmmm....) who did quite a side business in track copying, and couldn't understand in the least why this might be a wrong thing. And enforcement has been very lax - I've only heard of one hard drive supplier that's been prosecuted.
But Sound Choice - and KAPA - don't seem to be all that concerned with that sort of thing. No, they're worried about individual KJs, and what they might be doing. Reading the KAPA FAQs is a surreal experience. As far as they're concerned, backing up a disc is a severe infringement, much less space-shifting. Want a backup? Buy two discs! Disc worn out? Tough shit!
At one point, Sound Choice tried "protecting their investment" by publishing discs that didn't follow normal spec. The idea was that they'd work with players, but not with the software in PCs. They had to reverse this when their sales dropped through the floor, because they apparently missed out on the fact that a lot of new players hitting the market were PC based.
Not to mention that it took 6 months at most for people to provide PC software that read their discs.
And they haven't changed. They provide part of their library as software downloads that are so riddled with DRM that I wouldn't recommend anyone touch them with a 10 foot pole. I'm sure they'd get out of the CDG business if they could.
Moving away from KAPA, one can go to IP Justice, and read through their opinions on fair use. They're quite reasonable, and I'm pretty sure their opinion would prevail in court, but, well, again, lawyers or not, it's still just their opinion. And I'm biased by what I find reasonable.
As far as my basic question is concerned? No idea. Nada. Zip. There's a side comment by one guy saying it's probably not legal. But he's not a lawyer, and he has nothing available to back it up.
So I don't know the answer, and can't afford a lawyer. And I really don't want to bug my cousin for a free opinion. I try not to take advantage of friends and relations like that.
And now I'm going to have nightmares about the IP police coming in the night and stealing my equipment - made more real by the fact that I've now blogged about it publicly. Never mind that I've spent considerably more money on CDGs in the past two years...