Join Richard Stim for an in-depth discussion in this video What is a song copyright?, part of Music Law: Copyrighting a Song.
- In 1983, Sting wrote a dark romantic song entitled "Every Breath You Take," which he recorded with his band The Police. It's a great composition and performance, but the song, which earns about $2,000 a day, would have little financial value without copyright law. A song copyright is like a deed to a house. It establishes ownership and lets you put up a no trespassing sign. It turns a song into a commodity, a form of personal property that can be sold or licensed.
As the copyright owner, you control rights for the song for a long period of time. For example, the copyright on "Every Breath You Take" will last for Sting's life plus 70 years. A copyright lets you control and earn money from cover versions, modifications or derivative versions of the song, such as parodies, translations or abbreviated or sampled versions. For example, Sting has earned millions from Puff Daddy's 1997 hit "I'll Be Missing You," which sampled and borrowed the melody from "Every Breath You Take." All that is required to receive a song copyright is that the song be original and fixed.
A song is original if it wasn't copied from another source. A work is fixed when it exists in some tangible form, such as a flash drive, sheet music, a CD or saved onto a computer hard drive. A work is not fixed if it is performed live and never recorded or put into sheet music. You don't need to register with the government to get a copyright for a song, also known as a musical work or musical composition. In most countries, including the United States and Canada, copyright is automatic.
You get it as soon as you complete and fix the song. Think of a copyright as the government's reward to you for creating an original work. Also, the copyright for a song generally includes the words, so there's usually no need for a separate copyright for lyrics. However, if the lyric writer and music composer desire to retain separate ownership, each element may be the subject of separate copyright registration applications. Even though copyright is automatic, registering of copyright has its benefits.
It establishes your claim to ownership, places your song in Copyright Office records, gives you special rights in a dispute and is required before filing a lawsuit. By the way, this course focuses on popular songs, or what the copyright law refers to as a non-dramatic musical work. It does not include songs that are created as part of an opera or theatrical musical. Those types of musical compositions are registered and treated slightly differently than popular songs.
Rich starts by defining what a song copyright and a sound recording copyright are—and how they're different. He defines who owns a song, and how to sort out contributions from multiple writers of the same song. Then he explains how to get a copyright registration using the U.S. Copyright Office's online application process. The course wraps up by discussing possible objections that copyright examiners may have, as well as what to do to maintain your copyright and correct any errors that crop up.
DISCLAIMER: This course is taught by an attorney (or other instructor) and addresses US law concepts that may not apply in all countries. Neither LinkedIn (including Lynda.com) nor the instructor represents you and they are not giving legal advice. The information conveyed through this course is akin to a college or law school course; it is not intended to give legal advice, but instead to communicate information to help viewers understand the basics of the topic presented. The views (and legal interpretations) presented in this course do not necessarily represent the views of LinkedIn or Lynda.com.
- What is a song copyright?
- Who owns a song?
- Evaluating cowriters and their contributions
- Registering a song copyright
- Maintaining a copyright registration