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What musicians need to know about copyright

You’ve created a song you absolutely love and cannot wait to share it with the world. However, before you upload it to Soundcloud or release a video on YouTube, it’s important to know just how protected you are as a creator.

Here are a few basics of music intellectual property all songwriters should understand:

There are two creative works involved in any song

Music is complicated in many aspects, and its copyright is no different. Each recorded song has two copyrighted aspects: the lyrics and composition (the song itself) and the recording of the song. These are usually called the performing arts and sound recording copyrights.

This leads to interesting copyright issues. For instance, you could license the sheet music of your song to a band, while allowing another artist to sample the initial recording of the track. Both are under your control as an artist if you wrote and performed the song.

The privileges of copyright

When you create an original song, you are granted certain rights as its creator. You can sell the work, perform it in public and create derivative works of the original song.

This means as the original creator, you can use samples of your work without asking. You can also create remixes or additional versions of the song. This is what happens when bands offer “uncut” or “raw” versions of a song they’ve already released.

Having copyright also allows you to stop others from distributing, selling or performing your song.

However, it does not protect ideas but only tangible works. This means you need to have your song recorded somehow before copyright applies. If you’ve been singing it on street corners without having it written on paper or recorded on a computer, you do not have a claim.

Defending your works

A creator’s works are their livelihood, which makes protecting them crucial to any artist. It’s easy to get confused about whether your works are protected.

If this is the case, or you feel your works are being infringed on, a knowledgeable attorney can be a great resource.

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