Disclaimer: In this English translation of the German webpage of the bvft, the German word Urheberrecht is translated with the commonly used semi-equivalent expression copyright. While there are certain similarities in the relevancy of these two terms, they mean two fundamentally different things. While the German Urheberrecht law focuses mostly on the author’s rights, the copyright law of the Anglo-Saxon world is rather about the distributors’ right to copy. Due to the lack of a better equivalent or a direct translation, we use the word copyright but would like to point out, that all of our copyright work is based on the German understanding and law of copyright: the Urheberrechtsgesetz UrhG.
For more information, please see the following wikipedia article:

Film sound and copyright

Are film sound professionals authors? – an introduction!

The authors of works in literature, science and art enjoy the protection of the German copyright law. According to the law, only personal intellectual creations are considered “works”. A work in terms of German copyright law has to comply with the following criteria: “creation“, “intellectual content“, “perceptible design“ and “individuality“. On the basis of these criteria, several important court rulings for the film sound professionals were enforced, e.g. the “Mischtonmeister-Entscheidung” (re-recording mixer decision) of the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice) in 2002 (BGH I ZR 1/00), the ruling of the Oberlandesgericht Köln (Higher Regional Court Cologne) behind this ruling (6 U 7/98), as well as the so-called “Tonmeister-Entscheidung” (sound mixer decision) of the Bundesgerichtshof from 1982 (BGH I ZR 114/80).
The crucial point is, that a perceptible creative activity is not only achieved by the use of technology and that a certain “threshold of originality“ is attained.

What is film sound about?

Film sound as a whole (without music) creates an essential, independent overall sound picture that is composed of a variety of different sounds and noises and thus establishes an independent layer of the film’s narrative. So what happens if we use the criteria developed by law and literature (“creation“, “intellectual content“, “perceptible design“ and “individuality“) to define the copyright understanding for film sound?
Film sound professionals create an (artificial) sound picture by the means of recording, selecting, designing, processing and composing existing or new sounds, which convey all sorts of feelings and a dramaturgic understanding of the action to the audience. With manifold design options and liberties in the creation of the sound, the threshold of individuality/originality is exceeded.

So how is the “film sound“ work, protected by copyright, to be defined?

For this definition, we can consider employing the definition usually employed for music: “Works in music that use tones as a means of expression are all personal intellectual creations” (Schricker/Loewenheim, Copyright commentary). The definition for film sound is as follows: “Works in film sound that use tones (sounds, noises) as a means of expression for the creation of an authentic or artistic sound for motion pictures are all personal intellectual creations”.
As authors of the film sound, film sound professionals become co-authors of the cinematographic work at once, as they provide an inventive effort in the making of the film, that constitutes a key element of the filmic result.

Bela von Raggamby,

Specialist attorney for copyright and media right and legal advisor or the bvft

Keep reading with the more detailed follow-up article: The art lies within the listening