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How to copyright my music

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What musical artists need to know about IP

The industry is a complicated place, but you as an artist have more rights than you may think.

Man on a stage, seen from below. He has a microphone and is reaching up. Behind him there is lights and confetti. Seems like a good time!

Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

Words by Dr Martin Douglas Hendry


As a musician, your music is your livelihood. It's important to protect your intellectual property so that others don't profit from your hard work without your permission. Copyright law exists to protect your music and ensure that you receive recognition and compensation for your creations. Here's how to copyright your music in the UK.



Understanding Copyright Law in the UK


Before you begin the process of copyrighting your music, it's important to have a basic understanding of UK copyright law. Copyright law applies to "original works," which can include music, lyrics, and sound recordings. Copyright protection generally lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years.

It's important to note that copyright protection is different from other types of intellectual property protection, such as trademarks and patents. Trademarks protect logos and brand names, while patents protect inventions. These are also registered rights, whereas copyright is something that comes into existence automatically as soon as it is put into some kind of recorded form (should it be an original creation of the mind).

This means sheet music, digital and analogue recordings, tabs, and written lyrics; all gain copyright protection as soon as they are rendered in a recorded form. Notably, the "idea" is not what is protected, but the recorded form itself - and should someone produce something which shows evidence that this original material has been copied, then a copyright infringement claim may be validly brought. Let's dive in a bit more.



Steps to Copyright Your Music in the UK


To copyright your music in the UK, follow these steps:

Create the work. Your music must be an original creation to be eligible for copyright protection.

Ensure the work is original. It's essential that your music is not copied from someone else's work. If your music contains elements that are similar to other works, ensure that you have permission or that the use of the elements falls under fair use exemptions.

Record the work. Once you have created your music, record it in a tangible form, such as on paper or in a sound recording.

There is no requirement to register the copyrighted work in the UK. In the USA, you can do this, and it is a helpful way of demonstrating ownership should a dispute arise. 

It can be beneficial to document the creation of original workers, in order to provide evidence of original creation, and the time and context of creation. A recent example of this is Ed Sheeran - who after experiencing a number of copyright claims brought against him - is now recording all of his songwriting sessions in order to demonstrate the originality of his ideas. These would be useful should a claim be brought against him - and if someone is found to be creating music derived form his songs.



Copyright Infringement and Enforcement


Unfortunately, even with copyright protection, there's always a risk that someone will infringe on your rights - knowingly or unknowingly. Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses your music, in whole or in part, without your permission or compensation.

If you suspect that someone has infringed on your copyright, you have legal options for enforcing your rights. You can send a cease and desist letter, which informs the infringing party that they must stop using your music immediately. If the infringement continues, you can take legal action.

To avoid infringing on others' rights, always obtain permission before using someone else's work. Be aware of fair use exemptions, which allow for limited use of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, commentary, and news reporting.

When seeking to enforce copyright, or avoid infringing it is recommended to instruct a lawyer, as a claim brought against someone incorrectly and without legal merit can backfire - and equally, one that is not defended effectively can also lead to significant consequences for the defendant.





Copyright protection is essential for musicians who want to protect their music and ensure that they receive proper recognition and compensation for their creations. By following the steps outlined above and taking steps to enforce your rights, if necessary, you can safeguard your music and ensure that it continues to bring joy to audiences for years to come.


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Look at our other guides that relate to this topic here.

What IP rights do musicians and producers need to be aware of?

How IP law protects the music industry

How to prevent intellectual property theft



Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.

DISCLAIMER: The content within this post is for educational purposes only. Virtuoso Legal does not take any responsibility for those that use this information and waives any liability for any resulting effect on your personal or commercial circumstances. If you are experiencing an issue and need advice, we strongly encourage you to contact a solicitor to identify your best course of action.

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