Music copyright explained
Aug 10

Music copyright explained

Copyright gives the owner of a song legal control over how their work is used. It allows the owner to earn money by directly selling their music, or to transfer the copyright to a third party who will sell it on their behalf.

There are two types of copyright that apply to every recorded work that are defined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988:

  • Musical work copyright - this covers the lyrics, notation and arrangement and is the responsibility of the publisher.
  • Sound recording copyright - this relates to the finished recording and the responsibility lies with the record company.

If you are releasing your own tracks, then you are ultimately responsible for both types of copyright.

Under UK law "property" is regarded as anything that can be sold, rented or given away. When we talk about copyright in music, we are concerned with protecting Intellectual Property (IP). This includes music, lyrics, arrangement and the recording.

How do I copyright my song?

To legally be able to copyright your work it must be original, created using skill and effort and most importantly, be in a permanent form (a recording) or notation (sheet music).

There is no legal requirement to officially register a song for copyright; it is acceptable under UK law to copyright your own work.

All you need to do is send a copy of your song on USB or CD to yourself by registered post.

You must ensure the envelope is securely sealed and that the date stamp is clearly visible. Do not open the envelope as that may void the copyright.

How long does copyright last for?

In the UK, the musical work copyright last for 70 years after the composer or author of the music dies. The sound recording copyright last for 50 years from the date of commercial release.

Is copyright the same around the world?

No – some countries show very little regard for copyright law so it is important to check what laws apply in any territory where you intend to sell or license your music.

What powers does the law have?

 The two main legal acts concerning UK copyright are:

1. The Copyright Act of 1956

2. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988

One of the main worries for any artist is their music being ripped off. This can happen in a variety of ways but luckily there are both criminal and civil laws to protect against the two most common crimes of copyright infringement:

  • Bootlegging - copying without permission to sell it for gain.
  • Counterfeiting - the act of passing off a recording/packaging copy as the original.

This article is only intended to act as an introduction to copyright law; you should always seek professional legal advice.

Covert Recording

Beats and instrumentals from the UK underground


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