A special performance of the spoken word and music show Tongue Fu was live streamed on Facebook and Twitter from Arnolfini in Bristol on 4 October 2018, National Poetry Day.
Firstly, I should explain how Tongue Fu works: we have a three-piece band who improvise music to a series of spoken word performances. Our performers have included poets, journalists, rappers, writers and comedians and, although the music is invented on the spot, the words are never improvised. In the past, we’ve had texts ranging from poems to newspaper articles.
Rights for texts, rights for improvised music
The nature of the show meant we needed to take a two-pronged attack when it came to rights for the live stream: the texts were one issue, the improvised music another.
As the texts pre-existed the show and came from all sorts of sources, we had to think through the rights for each one. The key question was, does the artist own the rights to the work or does someone else? In the past, we have had performers reading articles from newspapers and – if this had been the case for the livestream – we would have needed permission from the publication.
Indeed, even when an artist owns the copyright to a work, there can be another layer of people who need to be consulted. With up and coming poets, we often liaise with them directly but if we have a well-known artist on the show, we might have to clear the rights to use their work with their literary or music agents, as well as negotiating the performances.
For us, handling the music rights was surprisingly straightforward. The music was all improvised so there were no underlying rights, meaning that we only had to negotiate with our fantastic band. What we agreed with them was that they would retain the IP rights to anything they created on the show but that Tongue Fu would have the rights for unlimited use of the music thereafter. I am aware how lucky we were to be able to clear for unlimited usage.
The only potential wrinkle in terms of music was that the spoken word performers cue the band with the kind of music they want within the performance. In previous shows, this has led to requests for iconic film music or classic rock riffs which the band played before blending them into an improvised piece. When I thought through this, I realised we could stumble into a copyright nightmare with no warning during the livestream. The solution was simple: we asked our performers not to ask for any existing music and keep their requests abstract, like the sound of a wave crashing. Thankfully, they all obliged.
Where might the footage end up?
We also wanted to be ahead of the game in terms of where the footage might end up – our live stream was for our Facebook and Twitter pages but we were aware (and hopeful!) it might get picked up elsewhere and wanted to make sure we had the correct clearances in place if it did. So, with all of performers their contracts covered both their live performances and the rights to use footage of their performances in perpetuity – all wrapped into a single fee.
I would say to anyone considering putting their work online – Don’t be too scared by rights. I was terrified when we embarked on this project but in our case, once we had thought through where everything came from and where the final stream might end up, it was relatively straightforward. Go for it!