Exclusive rights, licensing lingo, and more

Advice for those new to the concepts of copyright
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Celine Bresette
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Exclusive rights, licensing lingo, and more

Post by Celine Bresette » Wed Aug 17, 2011 6:49 am

So you’ve written a new song. It may have the potential to be a hit, but one thing is certain: it makes sense to properly protect your song if you hope to profit from its recording and public performance. How do music copyrights work?

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Wed Aug 17, 2011 5:17 pm

Hi Celine,
Copyright exists automatically once a song has been created. There is a separate copyright for the lyrics (a literary work) and the tune (a musical work) even if both have been written by the same person. If two (or more) people have collaborated together (eg Lennon and McCartney) then they become joint owners of the copyright. It is important that you put both the words and music into a permanent form, say by writing them down on paper. This may seem obvious, but sometimes musicians retain the tune in their heads without committing it to musical notation, and this can lead to problems later, especially if the song goes through a series of amendments. Make sure you date the manuscript copy, and if possible get someone to witness the date, then store it somewhere safe. You can leave a copy with a registration service or a solicitor as proof of when the song was composed, but this is quite costly and does not prove that you wrote the song in the event of a later dispute, only that you had a copy of it before a specific date. If there is more than one person involved in writing the song, it might be sensible to draw up a short agreement which acknowledges each person's contribution. Where joint copyright has been created, all joint authors need to agree to any subsequent exploitation of the work. If one participant wishes, (s)he can assign (that is, legally transfer) their copyright share so long as this is done in writing and names both the assignor and assignee.
If the author(s) wish to perform and record their own song obviously they can do this when they please. However no one else can perform the song or make a recording of that performance, without the songwriter's permission. It is sensible to only give such permission in writing to a named individual, and to state any restrictions. For instance performances could be limited to live venues only with no recording right, or limited by the number of performances etc. The same document should also stipulate any royalties which are due. Alternatively for more established songwriters it may be worth joining a collecting society (such as PRS for Music) who will collect royalties on your behalf.
The process is then somewhat like an inverted pyramid, with more and more rights and rights owners being added as the song progresses. The performers of the song also have rights affecting how the performance can be exploited, for instance through a recording, and the producer of the sound recording in turn has copyright in the recording. These subsequent rights apply to how the recording may be used, for instance to release copies on CD, tape or other media, for sale or loan to the public, as well as airplay on radio or TV and streaming on the internet. If the performance is recorded on video a different set of rights and possible exploitation avenues are created. All of these activities can generate revenue through royalties. As you can imagine drafting good agreements to cover all this requires a bit of legal knowledge and experience of the music business if you are not to get ripped off. This is where an experienced manager can make things easier.
There's lots more detail to this, which you can read up on here:
Music Law Advice
Bemuso
Discography
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

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