Heads up: Music With Flavor is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.
Music Copyright may be considered one of the more confusing areas of the music industry.
Of course, the thought of anything to do with the law can be intimidating.
However, you don’t need a law degree to understand the basics of protecting yourself as an artist.
A lot of the confusion people have with music copyright comes from myths, rumors, and misconceptions that are spread around the industry.
Not all situations are created equal and come with varying implications.
For example, The Rolling Stones profited millions off The Verve’s massive hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”
We can’t say if you’ll find yourself in a similar situation one day, but one thing is for sure, knowing your rights as an artist can save you a lot of headaches in the future.
With that said, Copyrights have evolved over the years, leading to some significant changes that impact artists.
To understand these changes, we’ll quickly review the history of music copyright.
The History of Music Copyright (Berne Convention)
The birth of copyright law dates back to 1710 in the United States. Back then, it was referred to as the Statute of Anne.
However, the Statute of Anne was not inclusive of musical work.
In a copyright revision enacted on February 3, 1831, music compositions were listed for the first time in the list of protected materials along with maps, books, prints, charts, engravings, and pictures.
Additionally, the copyright for both published and unpublished musical compositions was allowed in the revised Statute.
How Long Does Your Copyright Last
Over the years, the length of the copyright term has been revised multiple times.
Stipulations from the Berne Convention specifies that the copyright protection term last’s the author’s lifetime plus an additional 70 years after their demise, which is standard for all Berne-signatory countries.
“As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors. “
From the Copyright Office
At present, there are 178 signatory countries out of 195 countries in the world today, according to the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization).
Why is the Berne Convention so important?
It gives you, as the artist, more flexibility and protection on an international level.
Because of treaties between nations, once you file your copyright, you have protection for your assets in your residing country and other countries.
You can find a list of these countries here.
Regardless of the author’s nationality, copyrights can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office or through another country apart from the Berne treaty and grants you protection throughout multiple nations.
Since this saves you from registering copyrights in each individual country, it gives you peace of mind that you can defend your assets at home and abroad if need be.
What Are The Basics of Music Copyright?
For one, technically, you don’t exactly need to rush out to copyright your music. As soon as you create the work, you do technically own it.
However, if you do not take the extra steps to register your music with a company like Cosynd, this will limit your actual protection or proof of ownership.
In a nutshell, copyrights grant you the right to distribute, publicly perform, reproduce, and create derivative works. However, REGISTERING your copyrights provides you with protection against infringement.
Some important things to keep in mind where your music is concerned is that each song has two different copyrights known as the Composition and the Master Recording.
The composition is the original idea of the song, put in a tangible form, such as lyrics and chords written on paper.
Essentially, you can think of this as the music and lyrics of a song. They’re typically owned by the songwriters (who could also be the artist) or publishers.
The Master Recording
The master recording is the final audio recording of a song, also known as a mechanical reproduction of the composition.
Again this can be summed up as a recorded version of the composition or the music and lyrics. These are typically owned by the artist or the record label.
Understanding the composition and master recording is one of the first steps in understanding your rights as an artist.
From here, you can also begin to understand the different types of money owed to you based on the two different parts of a song and the role these two different copyrights will play in typical copyright agreements.
Understanding Your Copy(Rights)
When you file your copyright, this grants you several things, which include the right:
- (1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords
- (2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
- (3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
- (4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audio-visual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly
- (5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audio-visual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly – Similar to a public performance but focuses more on the visual aspects of your creations (music videos for example).
- (6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly through digital audio transmission.
While the examples above have been stated as the rights you have when you file your copyright, consider that this means you have the right to allow others to exploit your creations in similar ways.
Suppose you have not granted anyone this permission. In that case, we get into situations of infringement, which could be as simple as requesting the person to stop what they are doing, permitting them to continue, or seeking damages like the Blurred Lines case.
In a case where the copyright owner sustains the burden of proof, and the court finds that infringement was committed willfully, the court in its discretion may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $150,000 – Cornell Law
Importance of Your Copyright
When it comes to understanding copyright infringement and enforcement, this is where things can get a bit tricky.
Historically, federal court cases related to music copyright cost, on average, $200k for everyone involved.
In a lot of circumstances, it simply isn’t worth it to take these grievances to court. More often than not, these issues are settled out of court, and even then, this is still on the extreme end of things.
If you’re an artist just starting out, chances are you won’t have the funds to take anything to this level. The good news is that a new bill called The CASE ACT has been introduced in 2019, which would make these lawsuits a quicker and affordable process for all creators/businesses
- The CASE Act & Supreme Court Ruling of 2019
- The Music Modernization Act (MMA)
- The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
As previously mentioned, copyright technically exists as soon as you finish creating your work. So if that’s the case, then what’s the point of officially copyrighting your music at all?
Regardless if you’re making millions of dollars or merely scratching the surface with your music career, there are still a ton of benefits associated with officially copyrighting your music, which is as follows:
- Certificate of registration
- Allows you to file grievances
- Eligible to collect more
- Public Record of Ownership
- The Most Effective Way to Fight Infringement
- Saves you time and money
- Leave a legacy
Wrapping It Up
These are just some of the many benefits that come with officially registering your music. You do not have to run out and register your copyright if you don’t want to. However, this is a reactive approach to your music career in the sense that you only plan to take action when problems arise.
We would prefer to control all the things that we can control and take preventative measures to ensure that our assets are protected now and well into the future.
When you create something that can generate money for you, it’s essential to protect that asset. At the core level, music copyright isn’t that intimidating.
When you understand the possibilities of copyrighting your music, you begin to open doors to things like licensing and other income streams.
Cosynd and Music With Flavor are excited to partner to provide you with affordable, simple copyright services.
Protecting Your Content is Now Easier and More Affordable Than Ever Before. You can register a song or an entire album with the U.S. Copyright Office in minutes for as little as $25. (plus federal filing fees) per application.
You can also create FREE customized split sheets – a simple, one-page agreement that establishes the percentage of a copyright that you and your collaborators each own.
Best of all, you can protect all of your copyrights – your music, videos, images, and documents – using Cosynd.
Music With Flavor Staff
Helping You Taste Success In Music