Understanding Basic Music Copyright

The 3 Activities:

To understand music copyright there are 3 basic activities that exist separately but can also intersect:
1) Writing Lyrics
2) Making Recordings
3) Performance

Writing Lyrics: ♫

To begin, for a songwriter to become the original owner of their creative work, the work needs to be put into a fixed form. The lyrics cannot solely exist for example within the songwriter’s mind or spoken verbally. The standard fixed form for lyrics to exist is to simply write them down but a recording of such lyrics would also suffice without them physically written. Only once in a fixed form is the songwriter of such lyrics the original copyright owner.

Making Recordings: 🎙

Following the writing of the lyrics, copyright can be extended to a second copyright to incorporate another party once a recording is made. This is because the party recording the track, or the party providing the equipment for recording to take place now have ownership rights of the track. For example, if a popular music student was to write and record a song individually but using the university recording studio, copyright would be extended to the university. Similarly, if a recording was to take place within a private studio, once the master is produced and on the studios hard-drive, they now have rights to the track.

However, copyright can be distributed to or back to parties either by licensing or assigning. A track can be licensed out (which is effectively renting out the track and its copyrights to another party). For example, if a song was to be chosen for a compilation album its copyright could be licensed to the producer of the said album, however, the original owner (be it the songwriter or producer) would still have copyright ownership. The alternative is to assign (which is effectively sell), meaning the original copyright owner hands over full copyright to another party – which once complete they have full control and can do what they wish with the track(s).

An example of where a songwriter may assign or license their music is if they sign with a publisher. In this case, the songwriter would have to assign/license the publisher the copyright for the publisher to then work with the songs with the aim of increasing the revenue made for the songwriter than if they were to do the same thing alone.

Performance: 🎸

In terms of performance, an original copyright owner is able to perform his/her music without copyright contention. Similarly, they are also able to cover other artists songs as part of their sets, however, it is expected that this is declared in the setlist which is sent to PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) in order for the original copyright owner to receive royalties for such performance. This is because the performer and master rights owner should have joined PPL to collect royalties for their copyrighted music. This links to if your (as an artist)’s track is played in a public place – from a shop, to live venue or club – you can collect royalties from PRS (Performing Rights Society.)

This links to the two different types of income – Fees and Royalties.

$ Fees → Fees are simple payments made from party to another, for example from a live venue to a performer for a gig.

$ Royalties → Royalties are an income that has to be collected by the artist and usually this is through joining an agency to do it for you. If you do not join an agency or collect the royalties you are due yourself they simply go unclaimed.

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