Everything You Need to Know About Copyright
Your copyrights are your business! So it makes sense to take the time to understand how it all works. Unfortunately, “copyright” and “law” tend to have pretty scary connotations. Just hearing the words is often enough to make our heads hurt.
This article from Digital Music News pretty much lays out everything you need to know about your copyrights, publishing, royalties, and licenses in a way that’s easy to understand. Here’s the copyright segment of the article.
I know it’s not the most exciting topic out there, but understanding your rights (and more importantly how you can monetize them) will unlock a lot of income opportunities for you in music. After you finish this article, check out this free ebook to learn how to take those rights and score awesome licensing deals.
We’re also hosting a free licensing webinar covering a surefire way to license your music. You’ll learn how to get your music on music libraries and how to make connections directly with music supervisors. Click here to register for free and choose the date and time that works best for you.
As a musician you are a creator. Whether you’re a composer, lyricist or performing artist, you create works. These works automatically become copyrighted once they are documented; for example through recording or writing.
Copyright is a form of intellectual property. The creator becomes the copyright owner. If there are multiple creators, this right is automatically split equally. Writers are free to deviate from this equal share through mutual agreement.
The duration of this copyright is generally until 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. It differs in some countries.
Copyright ownership rights give control over who can reproduce, distribute, perform publicly, display and create derivatives of a work. These ownership rights can be fully transferred and assigned to others. Others can also be granted licenses to use your music, typically in exchange for a payment. These payments are called royalties.
There are two types of musical copyright;
Musical Composition Copyright:
A musical composition is a piece of music, in part or in whole. The authors are typically the composer (writer of music) and the lyricist (writer of text, in case of lyrics). These authors are the owners of the musical composition copyright. Typically in equal share, as both the composer and lyricist of a track get assigned 50% of the composition’s copyright, unless they agreed on a different split. This can be done when one party contributed more than the other.
The creators have the exclusive right to determine who can produce copies of their song, for example to create records. This right can be granted to others by giving out a mechanical license, which is done in exchange for a monetary payment (mechanical royalties).
Whenever a record label or performing artist wants to record a song that they do not own, they have to get a mechanical license from the people that do. Always.
All decisions regarding the composition can only be made when agreed upon by all copyright owners. As mentioned before, the ownership and control of copyright can be transferred to others. Generally, songwriters get a specialized third party, namely a publisher, to control and manage their songs. In exchange, they get a cut of the royalty streams which they help generate with the repertoire.
Writer-publisher splits tend to range between 50%-50% and 70%-30%, depending on the clout of the artist and sometimes even on the relevant country’s regulations.
Sound Recording Copyright:
A sound recording is the actual final recording of a song, a fixation of sound. It often goes by the name of ‘master’ from the old ‘master tape’ expression. The authors are the performing artist and record producer, who in essence are therefore the owners. Producers typically get a small share of the master rights (up to 12.5%). However, recordings are typically made in assignment of record labels, whom have negotiated deals with both the artist and producer in which they transfer ownership of their copyright to the label in exchange for royalty payments.
Also, it’s increasingly more common and easy for performing artists to record independently. In these cases, the master ownership belongs to just them, or them together with the producer.
Royalty payments to performing artists are called artist royalties. Royalty payments to producers are called producer royalties.
Now that you know about the two different types of musical copyright, it is important that you grasp the difference between the ‘writers’ of a track and the owners of the actual ‘master recording’. The composition, made by the writers, is typically represented by a publisher. The sound recording, made by the performing artist and producer, is typically represented by a label.
To learn more about publishers, royalty calculations, and licenses, check out the full article over on Digital Music News.
It is sometimes said that there is no copyright in an idea. This is not entirely accurate, and is more than a little misleading. Although there is no copyright in an idea as such – i.e. an idea which has not been fixed in the form of a copyright work – that is not to say that copyright does not protect the ideas which inhere in copyright works: it does, providing the ideas are of the right kind and are not too general. For example, copyright in a story could be infringed by a person copying the plot of that story, notwithstanding that the copyist takes care to avoid lifting a single phrase from the original story. One should always consult with trademarking lawyers before applying for a trademark.