Music Copyright Law
It's time to learn the in's and out's of music copyright law.
Copyright law has been around for decades to help protect creators of such things as art, books, photos and of course music.
As a songwriter it is important to understand how it works and how you can use it to protect your songs. This article will tell you what is and is not protected under music copyright law.
Before we start I just want to remind you that I am not a music lawyer. All the advice I give is from personal experience and information I have gathered over the years.
You should always consult a professional music lawyer for serious matters!
Song Copyright - What Is Protected
If you own the copyright here is what you can do with your music.
- Reproduction Rights: The copyright holder can reproduce music or lyrics
- Distribution: The right to distribute the music or lyrics either for free, for no profit, or for profit
- Performance: The right to perform the music in public
- Play In Public: You can play your music in public via CD, MP3 etc.
- Derivative: The right to make a derivative based on the original piece for us in public in any form. i.e. use a different arrangement
Song Copyright - What Is Not Protected
- Titles or short phrases: What if someone could have copyrighted "Happy Christmas" or "Home" as a title?
- Chord Progressions: There are only so many chords, thus so many chord combinations that can be made from them so if you could copyright a chord progression then we would run out of progressions for new songs very fast.
- Concepts/Ideas: 'Boy falls for girl', 'Girl misses boy' how many times have you heard these concepts been used in songs?
- Rhythmic Patterns: Although you can copyright the actual recordings of rhythms you can't copyright the actual rhythm patterns.
Copyrights eventually expire and when they do the owner loses there exclusive rights. Also some composers, either during their lifetime or at their death, renounce their copyright and give their music or lyrics to the public.
When a compositions is not protected under copyright law it is said to be in the public domain. A composition that is in the public domain can be arranged, reproduced, performed, recorded, or published.
But before you use a composition make sure you have legitimate proof that it has no copyright and is therefore in the public domain.
USA Copyright Law
- Works created after 1/1/1978 - life of the longest surviving author plus 70 years
- Works registered before 1/1/1978 - 95 years from the date copyright was secured
- Works registered before 1/1/1923 - Copyright protection for 75 years has expired and these works are in the public domain
Extreme caution must be exercised on all international usage of any intellectual property as music copyright law varies widely from country to country.