Considerations Before Copyrighting Your Song
When writing and recording an original song, it is important to be aware of the types of copyright protection available to you at each stage of the process. This will determine what exclusive rights you have to use your song. Ultimately, copyrighting your song is an effective way to protect your hard work. This article outlines:
- the types of copyright ownership you can receive for a song;
- the rights associated with copyright ownership;
- what licencing your song means; and
- copyright infringement.
What Is Music Copyright?
Copyright is a form of intellectual property that prevents others from copying your original work without your permission. In Australia, music copyright does not require registration. Instead, copyright law automatically applies when an original idea is either written, digitally captured, or recorded.
Types of Copyright Ownership in a Song
Since songs often comprise lyrics and music, there can be different types of copyright ownership within one song. Generally, a song will have a:
- composition copyright; and
- sound recording copyright.
Composition copyright protects both the lyrics and melodic arrangements of a song. Usually, the songwriter exclusively owns the composition copyright.
On the other hand, there can be an infinite amount of sound recording copyrights in a song. This type of copyright protects the unique arrangement of sounds and is usually owned by the person who records your song. This example may better explain the difference between both copyrights:
If you write and record your own song, you likely own both the composition and sound recording copyrights. If you decide to record an acoustic version of your song in addition to the original, you may gain another sound recording copyright. Likewise, if someone performs a cover of your original song with your permission, they create their own sound recording copyright for their cover.
These types of copyright will last for 70 years in addition to the life of the creator. However, there are exceptions to this rule where a musical work was:
- not broadcasted during the creator’s lifetime; or
- published anonymously, or the identity of the creator is otherwise unknown.
Ownership of copyright in a song may change, however, when the:
- recording is made as part of employment; or
- someone has commissioned the recording.
If you are employed to produce a song for your place of employment, it is likely that your employer is the copyright owner of the song. Similarly, the person who commissions you to record a song will be the copyright owner of that song.
Your Exclusive Rights as a Copyright Owner
Copyrighting a song gives an owner the exclusive right to:
- make copies of their song;
- perform their song in public; and
- communicate or broadcast their song to the public.
Songs broadcasted and played outside of Australia may require further copyright protection. You may be eligible to register your song for copyright protection in another country through offices such as the United States Copyright Office. It is not always necessary to register your song for copyright protection in other countries because Australia is a signatory to international treaties that protect copyright material. For example, the Berne Convention protects Australian music copyrights in 179 countries.
Licencing Your Music
Radio stations usually require permission from the copyright owner of the song to play their song on the radio. However, it would be impractical for a radio broadcaster to contact every songwriter each time they wanted to play music. For this reason, various groups licence songs on behalf of their copyright owners. In Australia, APRA AMCOS collects licence fees from broadcasters on behalf of the copyright owner of songs and distributes these funds to the copyright owner twice a year.
Copyright infringement can occur if someone uses all or a substantial part of copyrighted material without the copyright owner’s permission. It can occur in the following instances where copyrighted songs are:
- distributed for trade or any other purpose; or
- exhibited or performed in a public space.
However, there are exceptions to copyright infringement, such as fair dealings of a song for:
- research or study;
- criticism or review;
- parody or satire; and
- reporting news.
If you believe that someone has infringed on your copyright, you may want to seek advice from a lawyer to determine whether you should take further action. For example, you may consider sending a copyright infringement notice to another party who is infringing on your rights.
Copyrighting your song is an effective way to protect your hard work from being misused by others. There are two types of copyright protection in a song; composition copyright and sound recording copyright. Usually, only one composition copyright exists in a song and songwriters themselves own this type of copyright. Likewise, there can be multiple sound recording copyrights in a song, which are usually owned by the person who produces the song. Copyright owners can also grant licences for others to use or broadcast the copyrighted song.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you suspect that somebody has infringed your copyright, you should seek advice from a lawyer about whether you should pursue your claim.
If another person merely gives an idea or a suggestion for the song, it is unlikely that they have a copyright claim. However, if the song is created in close collaboration with another person, it may be the case where you both own copyright as co-creators of the song. Therefore, if you would like to avoid shared copyright ownership, you can enter an agreement before creating the song. This agreement will determine which party keeps copyright ownership.
Royalties are a payment received by copyright owners when licensing their work to others.