Music Copyright Mistakes happen hence why understanding copyright is at the very core of being a music creator.
After all, if you can’t protect your creations from being copied or used without your permission, then you don’t have a career in music – you have a hobby.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with making music for fun, but even if music is simply a hobby for you, you’ll still want to ensure that your work is properly protected so that it can’t be misrepresented.
Are Music Copyright Mistakes Avoidable?
Fortunately, copyright laws exist to offer these protections, and if you’ve created something, you’re already protected by these laws. You may think that the only way to copyright a piece of music is to formally register with the U.S. Copyright Office, but the truth is that you technically don’t have to do anything – your copyright is created the moment your music is created!
Where artists tend to get themselves into trouble, outside of their music being stolen, is by signing unfavorable contracts that seem like a great deal if you lack the ability to a) know your worth and b) think long term. Many artists, yes even the likes of Paul McCartney, have fallen victim to this lack of foresight early in their careers.
We hope to help you avoid this from happening but first you must get familiar with a few important things.
The Basics of Copyright Law
Copyright simply means that an entity has the right to reproduce a work. In the world of music, this usually means the person or group that created a song.
However, copyright can be assigned to anyone by the creator of a specific piece of work. We’ll discuss this in more detail below, but in music publishing, there are times when a copyright holder will sign away his or her copyright to a publisher for various reasons.
If at all possible, however, you will always want to maintain the copyright. The reason for this is that no matter what, you are the creator of your music, and even after signing publishing deals, you want to retain the right to do what you want with your creation.
Of course, when you do sign with a publisher, you are agreeing to give up certain aspects of your copyright protection, but even if everything falls apart in your deal, you’ll still want to retain the copyright.
When you sign away your copyright, it doesn’t matter that you wrote a track, produced it, recorded it, promoted it and sold it under your name initially.
Once the copyright is gone, the entity to whom you have assigned copyright can now legally be called the rightful owner of the work, and they can do whatever they want with it, including selling the copyright to another entity.
The worst part is that, at that point, you are completely powerless to stop the process. Regardless of where you’re at in your music career or the different types of publishing that you might be pursuing, it is important to keep this in mind.
What Rights Does a Publisher Have to Your Work?
A publisher is the party tasked with selling and licensing your work. In this sense, a publisher does not own your copyright unless you explicitly sell or give it away, but the publisher instead has the right to make money off of your copyright.
The problem comes in when you sign an agreement that gives the publisher a shared claim to the copyright. In these cases, the publisher then not only receives a cut from licensing the music, but it also receives a cut from all instances of the work being sold until the copyright is returned to the original owner.
“Eddie Griffin gives his take on the infamous feud between Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney. A mistake by McCartney that cost him millions.” – VladTv
To drive this point home, consider the case of Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. Jackson and McCartney were friends and collaborators, but The Beatles had signed over copyright to their record label in the 1960s, and when the publishing rights to a large percentage of the The Beatles’ catalog came up for sale, Jackson made the purchase.
This meant that McCartney had no real claim to the music he recorded and became famous for, and Jackson could do as he wished with the music.
Jackson made tens of millions of dollars off the deal over the years, and his estate settled with Sony for about $750 million after Jackson’s death when Sony obtained the rights.
McCartney had to fight legal battles and wait around 50 years in order for the Copyright Act’s time limitations to expire to get his own music back.
This was all because McCartney signed away his rights back in 1967 without understanding the future ramifications of doing so.
While you may never be as famous or well-known as Paul McCartney and The Beatles, you never know what the future holds for your music, so hang onto that copyright no matter what.
Signing a publishing agreement is great, but signing away your actual copyright is, in the words of the late Michael Jackson, dangerous!
Keep Your Copyright
The world of publishing, licensing and copyright can be quite daunting and overwhelming for artists to grasp let alone master.
There’s a reason why entertainment lawyers aren’t exactly living paycheck to paycheck. While you may not have the luxury of hiring a team to help you manage these areas at the moment, understand that all hope is certainly not lost.
The main concept to understand is the idea that ownership keeps you in the drivers seat. If you at any moment plan to give up any or all of your ownership, you should at the very least understand exactly what you are signing away.
Apart from this we suggest that you familiarize yourself with the different types of copyright out there as well as understand if and when you should be copyrighting your music.