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Copyright Law

Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

Copyright Music

International copyright law as dictated by the Berne Convention, ensures that music copyright is an automatic right.  No official registration is needed with any agency or entity.  However, to take action against any copyright disputes over your sound recording or song lyrics, it's very important that be able to prove that you're the original copyright owner of musical work and when your work was created. 

This is actually where the problem can lie, as it can be more difficult to prove than you first think.  Copyright infringement is a growing problem on the internet, especially with sound recordings and song lyrics in the music industry so it's very important to that you understand how to copyright your music before releasing it into the public domain or sending it to music publishers and producers.

How To Copyright Your Music

Copyright is an automatic right but you must make sure that your copyright protects future interests, royalties and credit for the work and time that you've dedicated to your music.

To protect your music copyright you should:

  • Make sure you're able to prove the date and time your music, sound recordings, songs and/or lyrics were completed
  • Keep drafts of your musical work, as you are writing it and document the time at regular intervals
  • Keep a version history of your song and music while you are working, editing and improving it
  • Add a copyright notice to your music
  • Add a warning of how you have protected your music as a deterrent to others
  • Ensure your proof of copyright cannot be disputed

 

How To Use The © Copyright Symbol

The official way to show copyright of your music, is the use the copyright symbol and add a copyright notice, something like the following example:

 

© Copyright 2010-2020 Your Name/Artist Name. All Rights Reserved.

 

If you use a copyright registration service like Protect My Work it can make it much quicker and easier to prove you are the rightful copyright holder.  You will receive a unique reference number for your music when you register it.  Adding your unique reference number to your copyright notice works well as an effective copyright theft deterrent, so we advise something that reads:

 

© Copyright 2010-2020 Your Name/Artist Nam. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright protected with ProtectMyWork.com Reference Number: 123456789

 

How To Copyright A Song With A Witness Registration Service

Copyright songs using a copyright registration service such as Protect My Work can be very beneficial, as it offers immediate copyright protection and is quick and easy to setup.   There's three main ways that musicians tend to think they can prove their copyright for music:

  • The date and time on your music computer files
  • Emailing your music files to yourself or a friend
  • Sending yourself a hard copy in the post

Copyrighting a song using these methods is legitimate but not indisputable. 

 

COMPUTER DATES AND TIMES

The date and time on computer files can actually be changed.  So, this alone is not a 100% safe way to prove your copyright on music.  In addition to this, you would have to prove that the computer that the digital file was created on, was in fact yours.  Should this be disputed by third parties, the computer and files may need to be independently verified by a specialist which will inevitably cause delay and incur extra cost.

EMAIL

The second common method it to email the files to yourself, which is in theory a good idea but again, email content and text can be changed.  So as with computer dates and times on files, if this was to be disputed you may find that you have to contact your internet service provider and ask them to verify through their web logs that the email, date and time was in fact correct and not altered.  This will take time and no doubt add a level of stress as you try and navigate yourself through to the right department and support technician with the right authority and request the required data.

POOR MAN'S COPYRIGHT

Sending a hard copy to yourself in the post is known as "The Poor Man's Copyright".  This is where you would put your musical works on a USB stick and send it to yourself in the mail.  The date stamp on the envelope would serve as proof of time for the work and obviously the USB stick containing your music files, such as an mp3 or music video, would be your claimed copyrighted intellectual property.

The disadvantage to this is that you would have to save these envelopes for the duration of your life (plus 50 years) so if they were lost or damaged, they would no longer serve as your proof of copyright. Additionally, if you had a copyright infringement case to resolve, once the envelope is opened it can't be used again as proof.  If there was to be multiple copyright infringements over time, you would need to send yourself several envelopes to protect yourself against this.  This isn't a practical nor efficient way to protect your copyright.

 

How To Copyright Your Music Online In Five Minutes

Knowing how to copyright your music online can save you significant time, stress and act as strong copyright deterrent against copyright infringement.

Copyrighting music online with Protect My Work is quick and easy.  Simply register an account for £33 (excl. VAT) per year and you're free to upload as many songs, lyrics and music as you want.  Simply buy "tokens" for £1 (excl. VAT) each, pay-as-you-go, You need one token to upload a set of work (up to five separate attachments).

Once you upload your music, you'll receive a unique reference number to your email address, a digital certificate as proof of your copyright with details included such as your name, artist name, date and time the music was registered.  You'll be able to share this proof with a third-party such as a music producer or add it in the description when you upload your music to YouTube.  This allow you to quickly and easily prove the copyright of music.   

This can be a big advantage and a huge time saver, when it comes to proving your copyright to third parties, by being able to clearly show the evidence required, especially should you need to serve a takedown notice or to file a small claims court action.

Adding the reference number of the registered music in the copyright notice, shows that you are serious about protecting your intellectual property.  As a member of Protect My Work, you are also entitled to use our copyright theft deterrent stamp, which is a visual warning to would-be copyright violators.  This stamp can be used, clearly showing others that permission or a license must be granted if the music is to be used by a third party.  These two practices form a strong deterrent.

Lastly, having a central digital hub of all your music means you can manage everything in one place in an organised and searchable format.


How Does Copyright Law Work With Music?

Copyright law for music is slightly different as in many cases there's more than one party involved.  For example, there may be a singer, song writer, musician and producer.  It's more simple if you write and record a song yourself, as this would make you the sole copyright owner of your musical work.

Music copyright laws are such that, without a written agreement, co-authors of a song or recording, own an equal share of the copyright.  For example, if there are two co-authors then each would own 50% of the copyright or three co-authors would each own 33.3%.  This is true, even if one of the authors were to write the majority of the song, 80% for example.  Without a written agreement, the share of copyright is equally split. 

There are cases where an author can be employed or work under a "work made for hire" agreement, in which case the employer will own the song copyright.  Cases can be dependent on the individual circumstances, for example, if a song writer was employed by a music production company, this would likely fall under a "work made for hire" agreement, as could an agreement with a music recording studio that was hired to record a song.  It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with copyright laws for music or speak to a copyright lawyer to understand exactly how to protect yourself and your musical work.

 

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

In the UK, when it comes to music copyright length, there are two parts.  There's the the music and lyrics and sound recordings.  Generally speaking, the music and lyrics has a copyright of the lifetime of the author(s), plus 70 years.  However, the sound recording is 50 years from the end of the year of first transmission.

For example, the musical composition of Mozart as an original work, is no longer under copyright and is free to use.  However, a sound recording of an orchestra playing Mozarts' music could still have copyright protection.   


Conclusion

Knowing how to copyright a song is important to protect yourself both for any financial royalties as well as crediting the song to you.  There are individual circumstances involved so it's wise to research as much as you can and ideally, confirm with a copyright lawyer in the country where you're based.