5 things every musician should know about copyright

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How to Copyright Your MusicCopyright law tends to get thrown under the bus in favor of more interesting topics like marketing and social media, but it’s actually one of the most important things to understand as an indie musician.

Think about it: without copyright law, music would be a hobby. Anyone could record, distribute, perform, or sync your music with video without even asking you, let alone providing payment. In other words, copyright law is the very foundation of your music career, so it makes sense to understand it.

You can leave the finer points of the law to lawyers, but you should have a solid understanding of the basics. Not only will this knowledge help you feel more at ease when discussing contracts, you’ll also be able secure income streams and protect your rights.

Here’s 5 points of copyright that every musician should know:

1. Your Exclusive Rights

As a copyright owner, you get six exclusive rights. You alone can create copies of your song, distribute it, make derivatives, display it, and perform the composition and sound recording. (We’ll look at the difference between the composition and sound recording later.) If someone else wants to do any of these things, they need to get permission from you, and, in most cases, provide some sort of payment.

2. How to Get Copyright Protection

So now that you know what the rights granted by copyright are, how do you get them? You don’t actually need to register your song with the Federal copyright office to own the copyright (at least in the US). The moment you put your song into tangible form – written down or recorded – you automatically get the six exclusive rights we just looked at.

3. Is Registration Necessary?

So if you already get all your rights just by writing a song down, why waste time (and money) on a federal registration? If you sue for infringement of your music, a federal registration with the US Copyright Office entitles you to statutory damages and attorney fees. We won’t get into the technical points of statutory damages, but more times than not, it will be more financially beneficial for you to ask for statutory damages in the event of copyright infringement.

On top of that, a federal registration is the best proof of ownership you can get. The “poorman’s copyright” has historically been very popular among musicians. By sending a copy of the music to yourself via mail and leaving the package sealed, you essentially date the creation by the federal postmark on the letter. While this is better than no evidence, a federal registration holds much more weight in court.

4. Infringement

There is no rule in copyright law that sets a minimum standard for infringement. This means that even a five second sample could be considered infringement. Using a popular song, or the “hook” of a song will put you at greater risk of infringing than using a lesser-known song. However, it’s best to play it safe and get permission for any copyrighted material you use.

Another point worth noting, you cannot copyright chord progressions or drum beats for the most part. Imagine how difficult it would be to write if someone had the basic rock drum beat or the I, IV, V chord progression copyrighted!

5. Two Different Kinds of Copyright

Everyone knows about the composition copyright. That’s the one you get for actually writing the song; it protects the arrangement of melody and lyrics. However, there’s another one that protects the unique arrangement of sounds – the sound recording copyright. The composition copyright is owned by the songwriter and the sound recording copyright is owned by the recording artist, so if you write and record your songs you’ve got two copyrights under your belt.

A song can have an infinite number of sound recording copyrights, but only one composition copyright. Think of it this way: if you wrote and recorded a song you would have a composition copyright and a sound recording copyright. If you recorded an acoustic version of that same song, you would have a second sound recording copyright. In the same way, when someone covers your song, they create their own sound recording copyright for the cover. They will, however, still need to get permission to use the composition copyright.

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  • lifebohemia

    Question about sound recording copyright. I own the original composition copyright through the U.S. copyright office and I made a sound recording in a studio. I didn’t like what they did on everything, but some I did, so i want to go to another studio and create a new sound recording (I had a bad experience with this studio). The bass line that was made in the sound recording was not in the original composition I sent to the copyright office. They also created a beach feel in the song which I wasn’t expecting, but I kind of like it. If I use the bass line of the sound recording in a new recording as well as the beach feel at another studio, is that copyright infringement, or do I need to pay the producer in the previous studio even if I go to a new studio with completely new musicians? Thanks.

    • It’s your song, so technically, you can bring that arrangement to your new recording. The only thing that might be murky is if any of the musicians contributed parts that were so hooky as to constitute an essential new part of the song. BUT… that’s sorta intellectual property gray area. My non-lawyerly opinion is that it’s your song. If you liked what somebody did with the bass part and you paid them for the service of creating and recording a bass part, it now belongs to you.

      @ChrisRobley

      • lifebohemia

        Thanks a million. I love this blog. I read it religiously. How the hell do you guys keep coming up with great new articles? I don’t want to jinx you, but I hope the well never runs dry. Take care.

  • I lift my hat off and say, very well written! You guys managed to explain copyright at a level that it’s very easy to understad!

    And I’m sorry to say that I see, and talk to many young and talented musicians…or wait…to musicians at all ages that just ignores this or just don’t care. And then they cry about how “There’s no money in the music business” or “It’s to complicated, I just want to make music”. Too many songwriters, artists, etc. still thinks that the only way to make money it to make great songs, hope to get noticed by a big company who just pays them a bunch of money.

    I’m not saying that you’ll making a bunch of money just by knowing your rights. But it will damn sure set you better up for success.

    Great read!

    • Thanks. Thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed.

      @ChrisRobley

    • Thanks. Thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed.

      @ChrisRobley

    • ceoholla

      Even those of us that have not ignored these copyright rules/regulations have gotten their works allegedly stolen by multimillionaires/major corporations. Thus, unfortunately, your statement that it will set you up for success is unfortunately untrue. This is why we have joined together as a coalition of Independent/Artists intent to stop Hollywood from, allegedly, stealing In the Name of the Law (Summary Judgment). Here is our website, http://www.injustice4all.org and our Facebook page. Please like and share each, support the movement and help us stop them from destroying our careers, lives, hopes and dreams. http://www.injustice4all.org/about-the-documentary.html

  • Haha. Thanks. We hope that as well! You take care too.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Danny C.

      I have a 10 song album out on Itunes and others and 2 songs are getting play on Jango, and I have not done the govt’ copyright. One reason is a long time friend and writer said that almost no one he knows in Nashville any longer uses them(of course, some have publishing deals) and also cause’ of the cost-85 $ a song(yes, I know you can do a collection, but you know what I mean).The other thing is I reviewed the copyright material from th US office and it states that if you do not register copyrightable material within 3 mos.(I think) of the release date, which I did not, you are subject to a fine. Not sure how much. So that turned me away also.
      Any comments or suggestions?
      .

      • jazzvibes

        Is there a way to register a song with BMI/ASCAP without obtaining the government copyright number first?

  • Zuan Idrys

    Hey there. I made a lot of songs but I just don’t know what to do with ’em. What do I do?

  • Do you want to record and distribute them yourself? Or do you want other artists to perform your songs?

    @ChrisRobley

    • Zuan Idrys

      I prefer other people to perform them cause I’m not much of a public presenter myself, other than having some issues regarding budget and stuff. So yeah, any advice or words from you would be highly appreciated.

  • Don Diego

    You may want to check that info in #3. I’m not a copyright lawyer, but I worked in music publishing for quite a few years. The ‘poor man’s copyright’ notion has been around for a long time, but it’s problematic. Copyright lawyers advise that to successfully prove ownership in a (US) court of law one needs the federal registration – the certificate of copyright. I’ve enjoyed your articles, but I felt this one point needed some clarification. Keep up the good work. Thanks.

    • Thanks for weighing in. Yeah, I’ve always heard the “poor man’s copyright” method was questionable, and certainly would not give you standing to collect minimum guaranteed damages in the case of infringement (as you would if you had registered the copyright with LOC).

      @ChrisRobley

      • dvdaudio

        Hey Chris,

        There is a big disclaimer on http://www.copyright.gov website, basically stating that the “poor man’s” copyright is a popular myth with no basis under the law. I teach Music Business at the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences, here in Tempe, Arizona; and we dispel this myth for our students. One CANNOT even go to court without a registration with the Copyright Office. It’s basically a waste of postage.

        Glen O’Hara

      • dvdaudio

        Hey Chris,

        There is a big disclaimer on http://www.copyright.gov website, basically stating that the “poor man’s” copyright is a popular myth with no basis under the law. I teach Music Business at the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences, here in Tempe, Arizona; and we dispel this myth for our students. One CANNOT even go to court without a registration with the Copyright Office. It’s basically a waste of postage.

        Glen O’Hara

        • Hi Glen,

          Thanks for weighing in. That’s kinda what I figured. Best to just register with LoC!

          @ChrisRobley

          • Cheryl Dickson Neal

            There is lots of mention of copyrighting in the US but what about Canada ( where I live) . Even the guys at socan said the “poor man’s copyright” is ok. But now after reading all these comments, I’m not so sure. Do you know of where to go in Canada to get an acceptable copyright?

      • Christopher Bingham

        Yep – it’s the difference between “statutory” damages and having to prove damage. With the registration, all you have to prove is infringement and the law sets the amount. Otherwise you have to prove how much money they made – and that’s what you get.

      • Dar

        What about using a YouTube post as a poor man’s copyright. I have a lot of songs…that I would like to test first… is this a bad idea? It gets expensive to copyright each work that I may not want to ever put on an album…

        • Yeah, I don’t think that would cut it. It’s best to register with the LoC so you’re guaranteed a minimum of damages in the case of infringement.

          @ChrisRobley

        • Yeah, I don’t think that would cut it. It’s best to register with the LoC so you’re guaranteed a minimum of damages in the case of infringement.

          @ChrisRobley

  • You might consider seeking out a publishing deal. That way you’ll having someone working on your behalf to get your songs into other artists’ and producers’ hands. The downside is that you’ll be cutting someone else in on the royalties. The obvious up-side is that a publishing company will have connections and know-how, so it’s worth cutting them in on your royalties.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Zuan Idrys

      Won’t you help me with that? I’ll be happy if you could share my music to audience out there, (or maybe trough any artist, well to any publisher at first of course)

  • Doug Wood

    Kind of vague – I would have explained licensing a little better, considering so many musicians create cover-song videos and claim “fair use” when distributing those videos on their youtube and promotional dvds.

  • Doug Wood

    Kind of vague – I would have explained licensing a little better, considering so many musicians create cover-song videos and claim “fair use” when distributing those videos on their youtube and promotional dvds.

  • Think about it again: without copyright law, music existed for thousands of years and not just as a hobby.

  • roxybeast

    That’s the most simple & well presented explanation I’ve ever heard of music copyrights.

    And in addition to being a musician, I’m also a lawyer, so that’s saying something 😉

  • Emmanuel

    Great article, although you should point out that this is for the U.S as there’s other rights that are not covered in the U.S copyright laws that are covered in other countries.

  • ceoholla

    This article gives you the very basics of Copyright Rules and Regulations; however, laws without enforcement are USELESS…FOR if the judicial system is failing to protect these rights, what is the sense of having such. Our groundbreaking documentary shows you, in the real world, how your copyrights, right now are essentially USELESS and how we allege Hollywood has, essentially been able to steal ANY AND EVERTYTHING DESIRED..IN THE NAME OF THE LAW…SUMMARY JUDGMENT! This is not only from my findings/research and personal experience, it has been statistically validated by a well known Beverly Hills attorney. Buy the Documentary, support the Movement to prevent the Death of Copyright! http://www.injustice4all.org

  • WebWeaver

    how would one copyright an album that has been released digitally but not physically? thanks!

  • CC

    #1 is not entirely correct. Western nations, for example, have social provisions that limit exclusive rights in certain conditions, such as fair use/dealing, and do not require the copyright holders permission. Some examples of what I can do with someone else’s copyrighted song: a) I am allowed to make a copy of a song for backup on my computer/external hard-drive without permission (as long as the original was legally obtained); b) I am allowed to make and distribute parodies and/or modifications (mashups, remixes) of a song without the artist’s permission (although I have to provide financial compensation if I am doing it for money); c) use the song for educational purposes, such as displaying the song or part of the song on a blog and discussing parts of the song within an informative setting (ie, ‘this part represents a change in time signature’, etc).

    I am not a copyright lawyer, but I study copyright, so correct me if I am wrong on these examples. However, the copyright owner never has full exclusive rights over her/his work upon release to the public.

  • ceoholla

    5 Additional Things Every Artist Should Know About Copyright

    1. Copyright Rules and Regulations as are any Rules/Laws are Useless without Enforcement.

    2. Here is list of every copyrighted work in last 20 plus years that went to Court against major networks/studios and the cases were thrown out on Summary Judgment motions..essentially saying that NONE OF OVER 96% of cases, IN LAST 20 YEARS, could have won if permitted to go to trial…The Matrix, The Biggest Loser, Arli$$, Project Runway, Drumline, SpongeBob Squarepants, Groundhog Day, Finding Nemo, Robots…and the list goes on..and on.

    3. The courts, we allege, have assisted in the systemic denial of Independent/Artists’ Constitutional, 7th Amendment rights to a jury trial by subjectively and systemically dismissing these cases in favor of these major superstars/corporations destroying the lives/health/careers and many families when these cases are, allegedly, illegally dismissed

    4. This process is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, UNJUST AND UNFAIR according to scholars Suja A. Thomas and John Bronsteen. Attorney Steven T. Lowe also prophesised the Death of Copyright and statistically backed up the Injustices documented in his articles Death of Copyright and the Sequel.

    5. the groundbreaking film InJustice for All…Summary MisJudgment http://www.injustice4all.org The gov’t knows about this injustice and has done NOTHING to stop it…Join the movement to Stop the Death of Copyrighthttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BVqtZ7KwIs
    We will not stop fighting for the rights to our Intellectual Property…www.hollaback.org

  • what do you know about Mechanical royalties?

  • what do you know about Mechanical royalties?

  • Robert Caleb Potter

    If you are a BMI or ASCAP member it doesn’t hurt to register the song with them as well. Costs nothing and gets added to your catalog.

  • Joel Fleischer

    Now for the $100,000 question: How much does it cost to register a song with the Feds?

    Great article, btw!

  • Vidar Karlsson

    Really good reading, but you didn’t mention performance rights. Aren’t there any rights for
    playing a song live or on the radio in the US. Here in Europe artist get lots
    of money from radio-playing of their songs, shops-owners have to pay for using music
    in their shop, and artist can send their concert’s set-lists to a copyright organization
    and the club-owners have to pay fees according to these set-lists.

    • Yes. Publishers and songwriters get paid for public performances (radio, live shows, restaurant playlists, etc.) here too.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Craig Einhorn

    When you say “permission” to record a song I’m confused. Nobody can contact Paul McCartney to ask permission to record Hey Jude, but there are thousands of versions out there. Do you mean pay for a mechanical license or ask permission? I paid for many mechanical licenses without ever meeting the artists of the tunes I’ve recorded.

    • You don’t have to ask permission directly from the artist or publisher, but by paying the mechanical licenses, your distribution of those tracks is permissible by law. Permission is granted so long as you’re meeting all the requirements for distributing cover songs. Basically, you just have to deal with Limelight, Harry Fox, or some similar intermediary.

      @ChrisRobley

      • Craig Einhorn

        Thanks for explaining this.

      • Chance-Erica Williams

        How do you purchase the license? Or should I say where?

  • cubist guy

    Thank you for this nuts and bolts discussion. If your video training series is as clear and concise as your “5 Points fo Copyright”, I’ll be a better musician for having accessed it.

  • Yvonne

    Here’s a scenario – I wrote a song referencing titles of other songs, and rearranged a few bars from two of them for breaks, but I don’t know if I can use it. Imagine a song about the first concert you ever went to and the lines that got stuck in your head for days afterward, done in a similar style of
    music, but it’s obviously not “them” doing this song, nor would they have written it – it’s not from their viewpoint. I asked for permission to use those portions, several times, in writing, with proof of receipt of that correspondence, but have not received any response other than…”I’ll get back to you later….” (It’s been over a year) So much for getting “permission.” Is it possible they are waiting to see if anything comes of my efforts, and try to claim at least partial ownership then?

  • Clear explanation of a complex subject. Good job. And yes, you are right that the “poor man’s copyright” is essentially useless. If it goes to court, your songs must be registered with the copyright office.

  • Alfred Anthony

    Archive.org will provide a notarized document as proof of upload to their database in case you need to prove ownership. I’ve been using it for years in place of the Copyright office since 9/11 put a huge speed bump in the process. I trust it will be strong enough in case of litigation.

  • zoot

    so if you record some jazz and it has a lot of quotes you can’t use it unless you get permission

    from the family of everyone that wrote the source of the quotes and died less than 70 years ago? nobody is going to do that and it renders your work useless. that is just wrong.

  • Chance-Erica Williams

    So concerning the “performing artist” what if I write record and perform everything BUT I use a vocalist under a “work-for-hire” contract? Do I still get paid all the royalties or are they entitled to some performance royalty? Also, I would send it to a master. Does the individual that mastered the track dip into any royalties? Or, is that something seperate, like I pay for them to master and then I own the master??? Thanks man!

  • Wayne Heston

    So, if someone writes and records their own song; will a sound recording copyright protect the writer’s composition as well or do they need to have a composition copyright also?

  • Well, how many songs do you have that haven’t been registered yet? Maybe you could just send them all in as a collection and stay quiet about the previous distribution dates. But I’m no lawyer, so it could also be best to consult with an attorney about this.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Danny C.

      All 10 songs are unregistered . Problem is, on the registration form there is a space where they ask for the release date-so if I leave it blank or put unreleased as of yet, both are a lie and easily discovered if someone wanted to check, or if a dispute came up with a court date.Guess the entertainment lawyer is a good idea, but I really would hate to spend that money.I do have many witnesses and a copy sent to myself-but-? Danny Countess.

  • Yes you can. You can register both the sound recording and the composition with a single application IF the copyright owner is exactly the same for both copyrights. Check out this page for details: http://copyright.gov/circs/circ56a.pdf

    @ChrisRobley

  • joey u

    heres a question..i have a body of songs …approx. 10…I know at least since 2008 that the cost of a copywrite is 45.00 per song…I also heard that you can send to Washington a body of music you wrote…e.g…”john smiths music compostions” and just pay the one fee of 45.00…is that true??..thanks..joe u…

    • Edward Allen

      Yes, you do a compilation copyright registration…under Title, you state your compilation title ex. “My cool songs”, then list each song under that compilation and pay only the one fee on a PA or SR form. I’ve done that several times…here’s the kicker…if you separate any song from that compilation, then you MUST file a CA or change form to show that song is now on its own and being released separate and apart from the compilation. IT is not covered separately if still under the compilation! I had to file that CA form for a song being used outside of the compilation.

      • Gilberto Galaviz

        So in the example of publishing a compilation and needing to promote the album. Does the whole album have to be promoted or can 1 or 2 songs be promoted and protected? I’m not sure I’m fully understanding when you say “used outside of the compilation”.

  • Well, that’s probably correct (if the quote is long enough to be a recognizable passage from a song), but I think people let this sort of stuff slide all the time if something works it’s way deliberately into improvisations.

    @ChrisRobley

  • I’m not sure what they’re waiting for. If they want partial ownership, better for them to claim it now, right? Hmmm. Maybe get more… persistent. Send them an email every few weeks until you get a definitive yes or no.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Yes indeed. Many songs are registered with a PRO that haven’t been registered with the Library of Congress.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Looks like this is a good place to start: http://www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/h_wr02281.html

    It explains the registration process in Canada.

    @ChrisRobley

  • You can purchase a license to distribute cover songs from Harry Fox Agency or Limelight.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Chance-Erica Williams

      And this allows you to make your own sound recording of the song correct? I just want to make sure that’s not a different license.

  • You’d get paid all the publishing royalties, yes. The singer MAY qualify to receive some digital performance royalties through SoundExchange (but those aren’t technically publishing royalties). Also, the person who masters your album is just providing an engineering service. They get paid by you for that service, but don’t own any copyright on your material. You would own the master recording (and as such, should also register with SoundExchange).

    @ChrisRobley

    • Chance-Erica Williams

      Oh okay, I didn’t realize a work for hire was entitled to royalties. In my contract for a work for hire it explicitly states no further royalty distribution or revenue will be distributed for the sound recording or performance.

      Also, when your with CDbaby, you’re not automatically registered with sound exchange?

  • Yes. I forget what the exact cost is now, but you can register a number of songs at once as a single collection of tunes. Details are on the copyright.gov site.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Yeah, I suppose lying on a government form isn’t the best route. Hmmm. Maybe you could just make some phone calls to lawyers and see if one of them will give some free advice for a minute or two. It happens!

    @ChrisRobley

  • Nope. As a CD Baby Pro member, we’ll register you as a songwriter with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or SOCAN. But we don’t handle SoundExchange registration. It’s definitely worth signing up with them, though.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Tom

      Someone from CD Baby replied to a comment I left on a CD Baby promotional video on youtube. Here is the reply I received:

      “No, we don’t formally copyright music. You need to go through the Library of Congress to do this. Many musicians do not bother to do this because you establish copyright simply by writing your music down or recording it, but that is the way to do it formally. This article will be helpful for you.”

      And then I was supplied with a link to this article. And I am confused. It seems the info I was given in the comment..”you establish copyright simply by writing your music down or recording it” is at odds with this article. As far as I can tell from reading the article,the only legally binding copyright is going to be one that is officially registered with the US Copyright Office.

      Another thing.. CD Baby registers musicians with ASCAP or other organization..what is the difference between that and copyright? Is it the musician who gets registered with ASCAP and the musician’s songs that get copyrighted by the government?

  • Yes. That would allow you to distribute your own recorded version of the song.

    @ChrisRobley

  • truthnut

    Hi! We have a situation here that I have contacted an attorney on. My daughter is a singer/songwriter. She wrote a great song with the chords she wanted, but didn’t have a way to record it. She PAID a so-called friend to get her music recorded with her performance and lyrics. The friend has a recording studio and he brought his father into the mix for advice. The friend and father gave her advice on how to enhance the lyrics with the music she wrote. She came home, rewrote the lyrics, added a hook and took it back to record. The friend and his father decided to “add” their voices in the background of the recording and all kinds of extras she did not ask for. She was frustrated that they were taking her project and making it their own. Once it was finished, the father and son told her they wanted to be in on the ownership of the song for copyright and that the father would be the “agent”. My daughter did not want this, had not agreed to this and paid the friend $500 for his recording work and asked for her session files. The friend said she would have to pay $75 for the sessions files. When she finally got them, he had eliminated most of the sound on the original recording. My daughter went ahead and got what she had copywritten on Jan 1, 2012. We just found out that this father and son took the final recording that my daughter paid for and got it copywritten on Jan 11, 2012 with them listed as lyrics, recording, authorship and permissions for release. My daughter was listed as a participant in lyrics and performance. We are LIVID!

  • Wow. Some friends. Good that you’ve got a lawyer involved. I can see how they would want to be credited as producers, but if they had no material contribution to the lyrics or melody (besides asking that she do a bit more work on them), then they should not have ownership of the composition. I would also say that if your daughter paid them for their services, then SHE should own the master recording too. They were just doing some work-for-hire.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Wow. Some friends. Good that you’ve got a lawyer involved. I can see how they would want to be credited as producers, but if they had no material contribution to the lyrics or melody (besides asking that she do a bit more work on them), then they should not have ownership of the composition. I would also say that if your daughter paid them for their services, then SHE should own the master recording too. They were just doing some work-for-hire.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Wow. Some friends. Good that you’ve got a lawyer involved. I can see how they would want to be credited as producers, but if they had no material contribution to the lyrics or melody (besides asking that she do a bit more work on them), then they should not have ownership of the composition. I would also say that if your daughter paid them for their services, then SHE should own the master recording too. They were just doing some work-for-hire.

    @ChrisRobley

  • David J Caron

    Thanks for the info.. I do not play covers, I write my own music and lyrics, but how does copyright work with cover bands? I know plenty cover bands who simply decide to play a set of covers of well known tracks..are they infringing on copyright if they did not get permission from each covered song’s composition copyright holder ? Should they legally do so and what is legally possible in terms of penalties, if they do not ?

    • A band can perform whatever song they want live. The venue is normally responsible for paying performance royalties to ASCAP, BMI, etc. — who then pay the songwriter/publisher. But a band WOULD be responsible for paying mechanical royalties if they decided to distribute a recording of a cover song.

      @ChrisRobley

      • David J Caron

        Thanks Christopher, I thought that was the case.. but it doesn’t seem to fit with the 6 exclusive rights for a copyright holder. Why should there really be a different right/legislation between a live performance and a recorded one, when what is being heard can be the same thing ? I know you don’t make the rules though ! :)..

        • Haha. Yeah, I didn’t make the rules. Though that’d be fun to do,… just rewrite copyright law for everyone.

          Not sure why there’s the distinction between public performance rights and mechanical rights when it comes to the publisher/songwriter being able to control what gets played by whom and where, but if it weren’t for that leniency, cover bands would be out of business quick!

          @ChrisRobley

  • You own the copyright to your song the minute its set in fixed format (sheet music, recorded, etc.), BUT… when you register that copyright with the LoC you’re guaranteed some basic protections if your copyright has been infringed upon (minimum damages rewarded, etc.). So you should definitely register your copyright with the Library of Congress.

    ASCAP is a performing rights organization (like BMI or SESAC). They collect performance royalties (one of the more common types of music publishing royalties) on behalf of publishers and artists.

    If you have questions about publishing, the various copyrights that are involved in publishing and licensing, and such — check out this article:

    http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/2013/07/how-music-publishing-works/

    @ChrisRobley

  • Worship Expressions

    If I wrote and recorded an album (11 songs) in 2013 but officially submit the copyright registration to the U.S. Copyright office in 2014, what is the appropriate copyright year to print on the CD itself?

    Also, if I register the album as a compilation, will it protect individual songs on the album (for example, if someone used one of the songs on the album but not the whole compilation)?

    Finally, if I am getting the album mastered, do I need to get the album mastered before submitting the recording to the U.S. copyright office, or will a pre-mastered album suffice for purposes of copyright?

  • Pre-mastered is fine. And individual songs are still protected if registered as a collection. Lastly, I think what matters MOST is when you register the copyright with the LoC. As for what you put on your disc, I’d suggest putting the more current date, as some people in the media will see the 2013 date and decide to pass on your album because it’s yesterday’s news.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Worship Expressions

      Thank you for your reply! Very helpful information. I appreciate your article, too. Thank you for bringing clarity and understanding regarding copyright for musicians.

  • Glad to help. Thanks for reading.

    @ChrisRobley

  • You can submit the SR form which covers you in a single application for both the sound recording AND the underlying composition. That’d be my recommendation, assuming you own 100% of the rights to both copyrights.

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  • Gilberto Galaviz

    What if I create all original music (instrumentation,lyrics) and record it at a professional studio, would I have to include the engineer as one of the copyright holders? Keep in mind I’d be paying the engineer for his/her services.

    • No. The engineer does not typically have any copyright share of the music (unless they’re also acting as a writing/production/beatmaking collaborator).

  • I don’t think I understand the question. Are you asking about playing a cover song live?

  • I would hope so. Doing that requires a sync license (as well as any kind of mechanical fees for the replication of CDs/DVDs) since it pairs the song with moving images.

  • You own the copyright regardless of whether you’ve registered that copyright with the Library of Congress. As soon as the songs are recorded, you own the copyright. So yes, you can claim to own them fully. That being said, it’s a good idea to register the copyrights too, as that affords you more protections in the event of infringement.

  • That is a great great question. I’m not sure, actually. My suspicion is that if the radio edit is just a bleep or a changed word here or there, or just an abbreviated version of the same song/recording, you’re protected. But that’s just an assumption.

  • Trump it in what context? The rights to the song (the underlying composition) and to the sound recording are separate rights.

  • Well, if you’re a co-writer on those songs, you are owed performance royalties when they’re played live. The tricky part is, you get paid those through your P.R.O. (who has to know the songs are being played, which means the person performing would have to file their set lists with the P.R.O.) If they re-record or re-release them in the future, you’re also owed a mechanical royalty for sales/downloads/streams (which should pass to you through your publishing rights administrator).

  • Tough to say without being there, and knowing what was agreed to, and when. But if the friend who worked on the song with her did some co-writing or production, there’s a case for shared ownership. But that still shouldn’t give him or the label grounds to prevent the song from being used in other contexts. However, if some of the tracking was done at the friend’s studio, and there are contractual stipulations giving the label some claim to ownership of the sound recording, they probably CAN prevent the DJ from using/sampling/remixing/etc. the original recording. Am I understanding the situation correctly?

  • I’m not a lawyer, so it might be worth consulting with an expert, but it’s my understanding that when two or more people collaborate to write a song, all of the writers can record/perform the song. So, as long as she’s not using the actual recording that the friend made, I think she’s free to work with that third-party and use the topline and the words (and maybe even ideas from the parts the friend added, as long as they’re re-performed and re-recorded, and NOT the same audio that the friend created). Again, I’m not an expert, but that’s my suspicion.

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  • That’s a whole business unto itself. The dream goal is to get a publishing deal where you have an agency working on your behalf to place those songs with popular artists. But you gotta start somewhere… so I’d recommend networking within your local music community, and get your musician friends to cover your songs. Once you do, you can build a bit of a resume as a songwriter.

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  • I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think so. Once a song has been made commercially available, other people are free to cover it (either recorded or in live performance), as long as the writer/publisher are being properly compensated.

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  • It’s always tough to say in these cases without knowing all the details and what was agreed upon, but TECHNICALLY, the copyright is attached to the melody and lyrics. So the person that came up with the melody/hook and lyrics would own 100% of the song. However, there’s a case to be made that those elements wouldn’t exist at all if not for the beat (if it’s true that the beat came before those other elements and was essential to the writing process). I’m not saying that sharing the publishing is the way to go, but it’s an option. Another consideration: was the beat used by any other artists? That could complicate things. Best to be sure the beat is only used in one song (otherwise YouTube Content ID could get confused and start issuing strange copyright notices left and right).

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  • I would suggest consulting with an attorney, because there’s lots to consider between licensing a beat, how to split publishing, possible Content ID errors if the beat was licensed to other artists, etc.

    This might help with finding a qualified lawyer for free: http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/music-rights/indie-musicians-access-legal-support/

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    • 4 AM

      Thanks!!

  • Well, if someone’s inclined to steal it, they COULD always claim it’s theirs. The best way to protect against that, or to protect yourself in the event that it DOES happen, is to register your copyright with the Library of Congress.

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  • As soon as the song is fixed in a recording or on paper, you own the copyright to it. However, it’s wise to register that copyright (yes, for every song) in order to protect yourself fully in the event of infringement.

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