Music Copyright Laws: Everything Lawyers & Musicians Need to Know


Go through the music copyright laws to protect your creations while planning to excel in the music industry. People suffer embarrassment due to thieves who steal the original music creations to make money. We know that you never want to go through such situations so, we brought you a brief guide for these laws. Below are some of the facts and points about copyright rules for music every lawyer or musician needs to know for protecting musical creations in the USA.

Get free law information to get legal answers for these music copyright laws. Many points are crucial after the introduction of the Music Modernisation Act in 2018. If you want to make money with the compositions or musical pieces you create, you need to know your copyright protections.

Basic facts that every musician and lawyer should know about music copyright laws

1.   Copyright protections enable when you finish creation

Your work gets the copyright protection moment you create it in a tangible form. According to the US Copyright Office, Creation occurs when you complete the recording of music or lyrics of the songs or write them on paper.

2.   It is necessary to register to get protection

It is essential registering the copyrights with the US Copyright Office. You will be unable to sue and claim damages if you do not register your copyrights.

3.   Copyrights give you various rights

By copyrighting your musical work, you can get access to certain rights that enable you to protect your creations and earn royalties using copyrights. Have a quick look at these rights mentioned below:

  • Reproduction of copyrighted work.
  • To create a derivative of the original work.
  • To distribute and sell copies of the original work.
  • To perform the music creation in public.
  • To allow third parties to use your work by paying royalties.

4.   You can get copyrights for unpublished work also

It is not necessary to publish your musical creations to get copyrights. Even unpublished work is eligible for copyright protection.

5.   Composition and sound records need different copyrights

Copyright rules for music in the USA need the composition of the song and its sound recording to get treatment as separate items. You need to register both of them separately to get copyrights for them.

6.   Copyright protection carries on even after your demise

If you are an individual creator of the musical work, your copyrights cover that even after 70 years of your death. The copyrights can protect against the use of your original work till the completion of 70 years. If creation has multiple authors, the death date of the last living author gets consideration.

Basic rules of music copyright law in the USA

1.   Only original work gets Copyright for it

The originality of the creation is a must to get copyrights for it, and it should be available in a tangible form. You can file music copyright infringement lawsuits only if your work has copyright protection and you have enough evidence proving the creation in question copied from your work. It is not possible to claim the infringement if there are multiple creations from a single source.

2.   Record labels own and administer the copyrights for master recording

It is quite a popular arrangement in song copyright laws where artists and record labels get into the arrangement to handle recording and distributing the copies of your work. These records act as a party to administer the royalties, revenue, and copyrights of your creations for a fixed or percentage profit-sharing with artists.

3.   Publishers need to administer the compositional copyrights

The publisher of your song or creation will get the compositional copyrights as per the deal you make. The songwriter has to transfer a percentage share of these rights to the publishers for their services. The duration of these compositional copyrights depends on the type of publishing deal.

4.   You have to establish the violations of copyrights in a Court

To get compensation from the copyright infringer, you need to establish the violation of your copyrights in court. You need to prove that the work in question is a copy of your creation. There should be significant similarities between your work and its counterpart. The court does a quantitative and qualitative analysis is made by the court to examine the extent of the infringement. Based on these findings, it can impose a fine on the violator.

How to copyright Music creations in the USA

The complexities of the copyright law for music can daunt you but trust us that getting the copyrights for your creations in the USA is very easy. Below are the steps that can help you to protect your original work from any unauthorized use:

  1. Make Your Creations Tangible – First and foremost thing you need to do for availing of copyrights is to make tangible copies of your creations. You cannot file the work that is still in your head. You need to either write or record your music for the consideration of song copyright laws.
  2. Fill the Application form – You need to apply with US Copyright Office to register your work for copyrights.
    1. If you want to get master copyrights, then you need to fill the Form SR
    2. if your application is for compositional copyrights, then you can fill the Form PA.
  3. Pay the Fees – Registrations of a claim in an original work of authorship includes a fee of $45 for the single author if you register online, and if you do paper filing, then this fee is around $125
  4. Submit copies to US Copyright Office– The last step is to submit the copies of your work. For music copyrights in the USA, the work should be either in an audio file or a physical copy such as CD or Data drive.

We hope that now you have an idea for what are the copyright laws for music. You may feel that copyrights for musical creations are complex, but it is far from reality.

Copyrighting your work and start earning royalty using those copyrights is not so hard. Moreover, copyrights not only protect your creations but prevent you from financial losses also.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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