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Copyright: What is it and How does it work?

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Music Gateway Team


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Copyright is a topic that usually scares or confuses most however it can be easy to understand if laid out properly. There are a lot of myths and untrue information out there which could make it quite confusing so this is why I decided to write this short introduction into copyright, providing answers to the most common questions on the topic.

What is copyright and how does it work?

Copyright is one of the Intellectual Property Rights, which governs tangible literary artistic and musical material. Tangible would mean that you cannot copyright an idea of a song or lyric, you have to have it written down or recorded (even live recording) in a way which will allow you to prove you created the work first.

In the field of music there are two types of copyright:

Publishing Rights

Publishing Rights (aka Song & Lyric Copyright; Sync Copyright) cover the music and the lyrics of a song. This right is owned by whoever wrote the song. In the case of multiple writers the percentage of input is decided on and then each contributor is given a percentage of the rights. In band scenarios it is sometimes better to spread the copyright equally from the beginning as it might save arguments later in their career, and essentially the song probably wouldn’t be what it is without the collective input of the band. These rights are most commonly managed by Music Publishers.

Master Rights

The Master Rights (aka Recording Rights; Mechanical Rights) cover the sound recording of a song. These rights are owned by whoever has recorded the song initially therefore in most cases the producer. It is important to make sure whenever you’re having a song recorded to ask for the Master Rights assigned to you, and even an e-mail stating so would be enough. Once the rights are assigned, the artist would own the rights to the recording. These rights are most commonly managed by Record Labels.

Do you need to register it?

Copyright is an automatic right, which means that you gain it as soon as the work has taken a tangible form. Therefore companies offering to register copyright are just keeping a record of when the piece of work was created and who by. This would be a form of proof in case one is needed at some point to support a legal issue. Such proof can be however acquired by yourself as by recording a song the date of the recording would be embedded on the track (this would be a part of the information known as Metadata). Furthermore your producer should also have records of when and how the song was recorded, which alongside other recorded proof such as live videos, recorded letters, witnesses would contribute towards proving the piece of work is yours and not someone else’s.

How long does it last?

Currently in the UK the Publishing Copyright lasts 70 years after the death of the last remaining author. The Sound Recording Copyright lasts 70 years after the year it was published.  This is the same for all EU countries according to a 2011 EU directive. The length could however vary in different countries from Life + 30 years to Life + 80 years depending on the local copyright laws.

I hope this information has been helpful and you now have more of an understanding on copyright. If you have enjoyed reading this article please comment and do share/tweet.

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