Your music is unique. And after the time and effort poured into producing such a creation, the last thing you want is for some unscrupulous type to lay claim to your masterpiece. Unlike books, brands, articles, and the like, music copyright law can be somewhat intimidating and, let’s be brutally honest, often downright confusing.
So let’s boil it down to the cold hard facts, and provide a simple to understand overview of this complicated subject once and for all.
What is a music copyright?
In short, it means protection for your musical creations that are original and in tangible form. This could, for example, be a recording on CD or written as sheet music. Regarding music, there are two types of copyright:
- The musical composition itself. This includes the underlying music and any lyrics.
- The second is the actual sound recording. In other words, the specific recording of a musical work. So if you were to write and record a second version of a song there would be a second copyright for that one as well. This also applies to cover versions—the original artist owns the copyright of the musical composition, and the second copyright is applied to the sound recording of the cover.
So what rights does copyright give?
Owning the copyright allows you to:
- Record and reproduce your work (for example, CDs, downloads, vinyl, etc.)
- Distribute your work (streaming, posting online, etc.)
- Prepare derivative works (such as sampling it into other music)
- Perform your music in public (or on the radio)
- Display it publicly as a copyrighted piece
This is not a finite list of what copyright provides, but covers the basics. The crucial aspect is that copyright allows you to stop anyone else doing those things without your explicit permission.
How long does copyright last?
As long as your work was created on or after 01 January 1978 (which is when the current Copyright Act dates from) it lasts for your lifetime plus 70 years.
How to copyright your music
It’s really quite simple, and only involves submitting an application to the US Copyright Office (with, naturally, the appropriate fee). Although technically you get automatic copyright as