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Plagiarism accusations – what does SUISA do?

Plagiarism accusations – what does SUISA do?
Foto: Giorgio Tebaldi/Manu Leuenberger
Various media have been reporting on plagiarism accusations against a Swiss artist in the last few days. The topic is not new, but it seems to continue to be shrouded in ambiguity: Who is the accuser? What happens to an artist who lifts from another? How much does he have to pay? And what role does SUISA actually play?

First and foremost, the affected authors have to agree whether an artist has copied a song from another artist. In the best case scenario, the artists come to an internal arrangement and the case is closed. If the parties cannot find common ground, the author of the alleged original can sue the other artist.

Criminal or civil proceedings

Copyright infringements are only prosecuted upon a complaint being launched by the plaintiff. That means that somebody has to notify the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) of the plagiarism case. The PPS shall then initiate investigations. If the accusation deems to be justified, the PPS either issues an order of summary punishment or brings a charge against the respective party before the court. The plagiarising author is punished for the act of having claimed authorship. This does, however, only serve the original author to a certain degree. First, it has only been established who isn’t the author. The original author can, however, not deduce that he is the composer himself. Second, income has been raised with the plagiarism and it has been paid to the wrong author.

For both of these issues, the original author must launch civil proceedings. He must request the court to establish that he is the actual author and that his lost profit, plus damages, must be paid to him.

A judge does not have to be a musician or a composer. As a consequence, musicologists are instructed with an expert opinion in most cases. They analyse whether the work in dispute is really a plagiarism or an arrangement. The court then bases its decision on such an expert opinion.

Works are therefore not protected by SUISA

It is important to note that SUISA does not protect works per se. That is not necessary, either. According to the copyright law, a work is automatically protected from the moment of its creation. As a consequence, it is not necessary to register it for its protection. It may, however, be difficult in a dispute for authorship to prove when and by whom the work was created. In order to facilitate the evidence, there are two possible measures:

  • If you are a SUISA member you can register your works with SUISA. The date of the registration acts as evidence that the work existed at that time.
  • It does, however, also suffice you post a recording of the work or the music score to yourself by means of a registered letter. Of course the package or envelope must not be opened under any circumstances in such cases.

Payment stop in unclear cases

If there is a dispute, the author who claims to have written the original work can effect that SUISA stops the payment for the work. SUISA sets a deadline for the involved parties in the case of a dispute so that they can come to an arrangement or assert their rights before a court. The period generally covers six months but can be extended by a further six months. If no action is brought in and no settlement is made, SUISA distributes the remuneration based on the distribution status before the payment stop. In special circumstances, SUISA can also deposit the disputed shares with the court.

Expert opinion of the SUISA musicology department

SUISA also has a musicology department. It examines cases of suspected copyright infringements, among others. Against this background, the department can issue an expert opinion for the attention of the parties in dispute – if desired. The expert opinion does, however, not have a legal character but is merely intended as an assessment.

SUISA is therefore only involved in cases of plagiarism affecting the distribution of remuneration that has already been collected for works, or if the parties in dispute have asked for an assessment. SUISA does, however, not get involved in legal proceedings. These have to be settled between the authors themselves.

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