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How does music copyright work?

How does music copyright work?

Music copyright laws can be a rough field to wrap your head around. It’s spoken about often, yet the finer details of copyright and how it operates is sometimes overlooked. So let’s get into details about music rights.

A copyright is the ownership of a creative work by either the creator or owner. Music copyright laws differ between countries, such as the difference between the US and France’s copyright laws. For this example, we’ll cover the US, which defines copyright as being established once an original creative work is made tangible. This can be a song written on paper, or a digital beat created on a computer. Of course, other creative works such as digital paintings, novels, architecture, and dance choreography can have a copyright. It must have a date of creation and be wholly original and definable by its unique qualities. Copyright cannot be “general” ideas such as ideas, facts, or widely used words or phrases such as band or song names.

How does music copyright work?

In the US, copyright is established once creation is given form and appropriately dated. However, this does not mean it’s entirely enforceable by law. There are two types of copyright in the music industry that diverge slightly.

The first is the composition copyright which is when the work was given tangible form. This could be a combination of written lyrics, a guitar melody, or a unique beat. This is owned by the creator of the musical work.

The second is the recording copyright when the song is performed and given tangible form as a performance by a particular artist. For example, “The Sound of Silence” was written by Paul Simon who owns the composition copyright. Simon & Garfunkel own the recording copyright of the performance they’ve created. However, other bands such as Pentatonix and Disturbed can cover the composition copyright with permission from the copyright owner, Paul Simon, and thus can create performance copyrights of their own.

Countries vary in how copyright is enforceable. The US Copyright Office suggests registering copyright to their office because Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. In Europe, copyright is fully enforceable from the time it was given tangible form so long as it’s able to be tracked. 

Who Are You Dealing with When it Comes to Copyright?

One of the main questions that have been raised is “when does music copyright expire”? Well, the author or creator of the copyright holds the copyright for a long period of time. In the US, Canada, parts of Europe, and the UK, the copyright is retained for the creator’s life and 70 years after their death in the hands of their family or heirs. The copyright owners thus have the legal standing to collect royalties from record labels and publishers.

If there is more than one creator of the musical work, joint copyright is created once they declare that the same work was created at the same time in a joint venture. This makes it simple to establish the relationship of the copyright, however royalties and how the work is used is to be decided by the people involved. 

There is the case of a music professional hiring artists to create music for either themselves or their artists. In this case, the creator is a “work for hire” which is decided through a legal contract and the copyright is held by the employer. This copyright has a duration of 95 years after publishing or 120 years from creation. In this case, payment is to be decided through the hiring contract, but often the hired author is paid upfront and all royalties are collected by the employer. 

Copyright infringement happens when a separate party uses the intellectual property without the express permission of the copyright owner. Most often this is in the form of the separate party earning money or somehow causing a loss of money to the copyright owner. When discovered, the copyright owner can file legal action against the offending party. Copyright infringement can be a little confusing as sometimes it covers legal gray areas such as sampling which can be disputed depending on the circumstances. 

When it comes to publishing or distributing the copyrighted music, the copyright owner will license and give the right to use this music through a legal contract. Creators do this to allow record labels or distribution networks like streaming services the ability to play or use their music for a return of royalties. These licensing agreements are highly important for artists as they can earn money for their works, and in our modern age of streaming, royalties have become more vital for artists and music creators.

How Reprtoir can help

Managing music rights and navigating music copyright laws could be rough. We have designed a royalty accounting software, in close collaboration with our users: Royalties Manager. It is part of Reprtoir software suite, designed for record labels and music publishers, built to manage music rights and accounting in a safe online environment and accessible for all members of your team from anywhere. Let’s get in touch to help you manage data, musical works and royalties!

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