We have all heard about famous court cases were certain artists have brought court actions against other artists for pinching the songs, either music or lyrics. But what exactly is copyright? And what does copyright actually do and protect? In this blog we are going to delve into the legal implications of copyright and why it is so important.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a type of legal protection that covers many types of work that have been created by an artist or composer. The works could be songs, musical compositions, TV shows, lyrics, books, computer software and believe it or not commercials. As you would expect for a legal term there are certain conditions that these works have to comply with for them to be covered by copyright.

  • The work must be original, that is to say it has not been copied itself.
  • Fixed in a tangible medium of expression, that means it is placed in a stable form and recorded in some manner.
  • It must also be created by somebody.

Concerning the world of music this means that copyright protection can protect both the melody and the lyrics. Providing it is fixed, i.e. on CD’s, LP records, DAT, written down, on a digital format for computers, and so on and not simply in somebody’s head. Playing a song live does not mean that it is fixed, but recording that live rendition means that it now is.

The Right of the Owner of a Copyright

The owner of a copyright has many exclusive things that he may do with it:

  • Reproduce and make copies of the work.
  • Perform the work in public.
  • Distribute and sell the work.
  • Remix or use parts of the work for other compositions.
  • Allow the work to be played on radio or other digital audio transmissions.
  • Display the work in public, this applies more to visual art and perhaps karaoke.

Nobody is allowed by copyright law to do any of the items above unless they were the originator or hold copyright. Unless they have written permission to do so by the entity holding the copyright.

The Copyright Period

The amount of time that a work is protected under copyright is simple, it is for the lifetime of the creator plus seventy years. This means if the composer or author lives eighty years, the copyright then continues to be in force for another seventy years after the death. There are two types of copyrights for music:

  • A sound recording, very self-explanatory in that it is simply a sound that has been recorded.
  • A musical work, this term includes both the music and lyrics to a work or either of them separately.

This distinction between the two types of musical copyright is very important. The musical work usually means the tune or melody and often includes the lyrics. Whilst a sound recording is the actual song performance that has been recorded. We continue our legal journey into copyright in part two of our blog, and we see the implications of owning a copyright and how the owner can benefit financially.