Music creators are exposed to copyright in ways that shape how they make a living
It is important for musicians to be aware of how copyright works
Sound recording artists (whether they are musicians, producers, composers or otherwise) are creators who are most visibly affected by intellectual property rights and copyright in particular.
It seems that at any given moment, the most prominent recording artists on the planet is usually in the position where they are defending the ownership and originality of their music.
Most recently, Ed Sheeran, had won a court case relating to his song "Shape of You", citing afterwards that he would then go on to record all of his recording sessions in the future to prove that his songs are written by him and his team alone.
As such, it is important if you work in the realm of music creation to be aware of how copyright works, how to ensure and prove that you are creating original material, and how other people's existing work is used (e.g. sampling) without the threat of legal action.
In this article, we will cover all of this and more. Without further ado, let's begin.
Why we are best placed to speak on this topic
Virtuoso Legal is a specialist intellectual property law firm established in 2007. IP law, of which copyright in music is its own unique area, is a niche field - and our team has dedicated itself to operating in this area exclusively for over a decade.
We have also assisted a wide range of music artists in codifying the ownership of their work and protecting them from copyright claims. If you need any assistance in this area, do not hesitate to contact our team by clicking the button below.
An overview of copyright law in the UK
Copyright law in the UK is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended). This Act provides for a number of rights including the right to copy, the right to issue copies to the public, the right to perform in public, and the right to broadcast. In relation to music, copyright law gives the composer of a work the exclusive right to authorize the performance, broadcast, recording, and copying of that work.
There are a number of ways in which copyright law can be infringed, including making unauthorized copies of a work, performing a work in public without the copyright holder's permission, or broadcasting a work without the copyright holder's permission. Anyone who infringes copyright can be liable for damages and/or an injunction to prevent further infringement.
There are a number of exceptions to copyright infringement, such as the fair use doctrine, which allows for limited use of a copyrighted work for the purpose of criticism, commentary, or news reporting. Another exception is the doctrine of exhaustion, which allows for the sale of a lawfully purchased copy of a work without the copyright holder's permission.
How copyright applies to music creators
When it comes to music, copyright law can be a complex and daunting topic. But it’s important for all music creators to have a basic understanding of how copyright applies to them and their work.
As a songwriter, beat producer, or composer, you automatically have copyright protection for your original musical works. This means that you have the exclusive right to reproduce, perform, and distribute your music. However, there are some important exceptions to this rule.
For example, if you want to sample someone else’s music in your own work, you need to get their permission first. Otherwise, you could be infringing on their copyright. The same goes for covers or derivative works – if you want to create a new version of someone else’s song, you need to get their permission.
It’s also important to note that copyright protection doesn’t last forever. For most music, the copyright term is 70 years after the death of the creator. After that, the work enters the public domain and anyone can use it without permission.
So, if you’re creating original music, it’s important to be aware of your copyright protections and how to use them. By understanding the basics of copyright law, you can help ensure that your music is properly protected and that you don’t inadvertently infringe on someone else’s copyright.
The different types of copyright protection for music
There are numerous types of copyright protection for music.
The most common and well-known type is the performance copyright, which covers the right to perform a song publicly. This includes both live performances and broadcasts. In order to obtain a performance copyright, the song must be registered with the performance rights organization in the country where the performance will take place.
The second most common type of copyright is mechanical copyright, which covers the right to reproduce a song on a physical medium such as a CD or vinyl record. This type of copyright is typically obtained by the record label that will be releasing the song. The third type of copyright is the synchronization copyright, which covers the right to use a song in a video or film. This type of copyright is typically obtained by the production company that will be using the song.
Finally, there is the print copyright, which covers the right to reproduce a song in sheet music form. This type of copyright is typically obtained by the publisher of the sheet music.
How to get copyright protection for music
There are a number of ways to get copyright protection for music in the UK. One way is to register the work with the British Copyright Council. This is a not-for-profit organisation that provides a range of services to help creators and owners of copyright works to protect and manage their rights.
Another way to get copyright protection for music is to register the work with the Performing Right Society (PRS). PRS is a collecting society which licenses the public performance and broadcasting of musical works on behalf of its members, who are mainly composers, songwriters and music publishers.
Finally, it is also possible to get copyright protection for music by registering the work with the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS). MCPS is a collecting society which licenses the reproduction of musical works on behalf of its members, who are mainly composers, songwriters and music publishers.
The best way to ensure that copyright protection for music is managed effectively is to use a combination of all three of these methods. This will give the work the widest possible protection and will ensure that the rights holders are able to maximise the financial return from the use of their work.
The benefits of effective rights management when it comes to music
When it comes to music, copyright management is vital in order to ensure that the correct people are being compensated for their creative works. By managing copyrights effectively, it becomes much easier to track who owns what, and to make sure that everyone is getting paid fairly. This can be a complex process, but it is well worth it in order to ensure that the music industry runs smoothly and that everyone involved is being fairly compensated.
There are a number of benefits to effective copyright management in music. First, it helps to ensure that the correct people are being paid for their work. This is vital in order to keep the music industry running smoothly and to ensure that everyone involved is able to make a living.
Secondly, it can help to prevent piracy and ensure that only authorized copies of songs are distributed. This is important in order to protect the rights of the artists and to make sure that they are receiving the full compensation for their work. Finally, effective copyright management can help to ensure that the music industry as a whole is running smoothly and efficiently.
Overall, effective copyright management in music is vital in order to ensure that the industry runs smoothly and that everyone involved is being fairly compensated. It can be a complex process, but it is well worth it in order to protect the rights of the artists and to ensure that the music industry is running efficiently.
What happens to copyright when you sign a record deal
When a musician signs a record deal with a label, they are typically signing over the copyright to their music to the label in exchange for funding, distribution, and marketing.
The label then owns the copyright to the music and can exploit it how they see fit, often licensing it out to other companies for use in films, TV, and advertising.
The artist may receive a royalty on these uses, but they will not have any control over how their music is used.
This can be a problem if the artist disagrees with how their music is being used, or if they want to license their music themselves for a specific project.
In the UK, copyright law gives the copyright owner (usually the label) the exclusive right to control how the music is used, and the artist generally has no say in the matter.
As a result, many contemporary musicians decide to remain "independent", maintaining control over the copyright in their music, its use and the revenue it generates - and handling much of the distribution and marketing themselves.
Examples of copyright infringement cases in music
One of the most famous cases of copyright infringement in music is the case of George Harrison and the song “My Sweet Lord”. Harrison was sued by the publisher of the song “He’s So Fine”, which was written by Ronnie Mack. The publisher claimed that Harrison’s song was a rip-off of their song, and the court agreed. Harrison was ordered to pay $1.6 million in damages.
Another well-known case of copyright infringement in music is the “Blurred Lines” case. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were sued by the estate of Marvin Gaye for allegedly copying Gaye’s song “Got to Give it Up”. The court ruled in favour of the Gaye estate, and Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay $7.4 million in damages.
More recently, in 2019, Led Zeppelin was sued for copyright infringement by the estate of Spirit singer Randy California. The estate claimed that Led Zeppelin ripped off Spirit’s song “Taurus” on their song “Stairway to Heaven”. A jury ruled in favour of Led Zeppelin, but the case is currently on appeal.
Tips for music creators on avoiding copyright infringement
There are a few things music creators can do to avoid copyright infringement under UK law. First, be sure to get permission from the copyright holder before using any copyrighted material. This includes both the original creator and any subsequent owners of the copyright. If you're not sure who the copyright holder is, you can do a search online or contact the British Copyright Council.
Second, make sure you understand the difference between copyright and performance rights. Copyright protects the original composition, while performance rights protect the recording of that composition. You need to get permission from both the copyright holder and the performance rights holder before using a copyrighted work.
Third, be aware of the "fair use" doctrine. This allows for the use of copyrighted material in certain circumstances, such as for the purpose of criticism or commentary. However, fair use is a complex legal doctrine, so it's best to get professional advice before relying on it.
Fourth, be careful when using samples from other works. Sampling can be a form of copyright infringement, depending on how the sample is used. If you're not sure whether your use of a sample is legal, it's best to get permission from the copyright holder beforehand.
Finally, remember that copyright law is constantly evolving, so it's important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. The best way to do this is to consult with a qualified copyright lawyer.
With the widespread availability of different kinds of music, it has become increasingly difficult to claim any piece of music is entirely original. As such, for music creators and producers it has become increasingly important to understand how copyright works in order to navigate the music industry.
If you need any assistance in securing your copyright or engaging with IP in the music industry, do not hesitate to contact our team by clicking the button below.
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Disclaimer: This FAQ should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only. You are urged to consult your own solicitor on any specific legal questions you may have.