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What is music law?

What is music law?
Axelrod & Associates, P.A.

What is “music law?”

If you are a musician, you probably want to get paying gigs, record your music, and make a profit from your performances and recordings. What you may not have considered is that every step of the process involves other people or companies who also want to make as much money as they can, and often at your expense…

Although there are plenty of business law attorneys and there are some entertainment lawyers in SC, you may need an attorney who can help you to navigate issues that are specific to the music industry.

When do you need to consult with an entertainment lawyer, and how can they help?


Let’s take a quick look at the milestones in your music career where you can benefit from solid legal advice.

The first area is copyright law – how can you protect your own music from copyright infringement, and how can you use other people’s music without infringing on their copyrights?

Copyright Law and Trademarks

A copyright is a form of intellectual property – your compositions, recordings, and other creations are protected from infringement by others.

When you write and publish a song, it is automatically protected by copyright law. But did you know that you can gain additional protection – up to $150,000 “per work” for intentional infringement – by registering your copyright.

If your copyright is not registered, you can still sue for infringement, but you will be limited to “actual damages” – you will have to prove how the infringement harmed you financially. But if you register your copyright 1) within three months of publication or 2) before the infringement begins, you may be able to collect statutory damages instead of proving actual damages…

Similarly, you may automatically own a trademark in your artist or band name, but you can gain additional protections by registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Music Licensing

In today’s digital music economy, there are many ways that you can make a profit from your musical recordings, including collecting royalties when other people play or use your music.

Anyone can take your published song, re-record it, and publish it, butthey must pay you royalties.

In many cases, the other artist will get what is called a “mechanical license,” the amount of royalties is set by law, and the royalties should come to you automatically through your publisher.

On the other hand, some licenses cannot be obtained automatically. If another artist or filmmaker wants to use your music as part of their own creation – whether that is a musical recording, production, film, or documentary, they must negotiate a “synchronization license” or a “master license,” which you can negotiate to ensure that you are receiving fair value for your work.

When someone uses your work without first obtaining the right type of license, your music law attorney can then 1) send a “take-down notice” demanding that they stop using your music unless they pay what you are owed, and 2) file a lawsuit for damages.


Other ways that a music lawyer can help you include forming a business entity, negotiating contracts with music industry players who may otherwise take advantage of you, and either suing or defending lawsuits when someone breaks their contract.

Business Entity Formation

Your entertainment and business law attorney at Axelrod and Associates can help you to determine what type of business entity is right for you, keeping in mind your potential tax liability and the need to protect you from personal liability if you are sued.

Bands and Other Collaborations

If you are working with other musicians, whether you have formed a band or you are collaborating with various artists, you need to protect yourself with a formal agreement.

Who gets paid and how much? Is one band member more valuable, or do some members contribute more? What happens when the band dissolves or one or more members leave the group? Who has the right to continue using the artist or band name and to collect future royalties?

If you use other musicians on a contract basis, for recording or performances, how much will they be paid? Are they going to be paid a one-time fee for their performance or will they be entitled to future royalties?

All of this and more should be spelled out in an agreement between the parties to avoid unnecessary litigation and bad feelings down the road.

Music Contracts and Agreements

Whether you are recording music to sell and license or performing at venues, you are going to need to protect yourself by negotiating contracts that spell out what each party’s obligations are under the agreement, when and how much you get paid, and what happens if one party defaults or does not perform their obligations.

Some examples of the many situations where you may need an agreement before performing work include:

  • Entering a relationship with a recording studio, record label, publisher, producer, manager, or promoter;
  • Booking venues for live performances;
  • Negotiating terms with a recording, mixing, or mastering engineer;
  • Working with a band or collaborating with other artists; and
  • Negotiating the distribution of CDs, albums, or other physical mediums.


Whether you are recording and publishing your music, licensing your music for others to use, or performing at live venues, you need to protect yourself and you should not solely rely on contracts that have been prepared by the other party. Get legal advice now, protect yourself, and do not allow others to profit from your hard work.

Call your SC business and entertainment law attorney at Axelrod and Associates today at 843-916-9300 or complete our contact form to find out how we can help.

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