How to Copyright Music: What is Music Copyright and Why It Matters

copyright music

Music Copyright is one of the most necessary ideas for musicians on Soundcloud. It’s the way you get paid for your music and the way you protect the music you’ve worked so hard on.

However, it’s also really confusing…

Without the help of a music lawyer, the ins-and-outs of copyright are tough to determine by yourself.

Which is why we spoke to music lawyer Mark Quail to help clear up a few of the confusion around music copyrights and help you get a handle on your rental property.

Quail has been practicing music law since 1990. He at present advises leading electronic musicians Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Art Department, John Acquaviva, Matador, Pleasurekraft, Mathew Jonson and Shaun Frank. Quail additionally sits on the executive and advisory board for the Association for Electronic Music and hosts the successful The Music Law Podcast.

In other words, he knows music law inside and outside. Quail took time to answer some important questions about music copyright and the way they impact getting paid for your music.

What is music copyright?

Music Copyright is the set of rights granted by your country’s government for intellectual property (music) you make. Each country has different variations on the rights granted. However, all of them exist to help you manage what you’re able to do with your track or recording, who can and can’t exploit your work for revenue, and the way you get paid for your music.

What are the kinds of musical copyright?

There are 2 separate types of music copyright:

  1. The copyright covering the music (sometimes called the composition)
  2. The copyright covering the recording of that music (sometimes called the master)

These 2 copyrights could be owned by two separate parties.

For instance, Bob Dylan wrote the song “All Along The Watchtower”, recorded it and launched it through his record label.

When people purchased that record, Dylan earned royalties from the exploitation of his copyright covering the composition and the recording.

Jimi Hendrix additionally made a recording of the track “All Along The Watchtower”.  When people purchased Hendrix’s version, he obtained royalties for the exploitation of his copyright covering the recording, whereas Bob Dylan got paid for the exploitation of his copyright in the track.

By recording and releasing his own version of “All Along the Watchtower,” Hendrix was exploiting Dylan’s composition copyright. Dylan’s composition copyright made sure that he was still getting paid for his original work.

How do I copyright music?

In the US and Canada, copyright applies immediately if you complete a track and “fix” it in some type like writing it out in sheet music or recording it on a physical medium like a hard drive or tape.

Applying a copyright notice to your work isn’t mandatory (more on this below). However officially applying for a copyright registration could help if somebody is looking for who to contact if they need to ask for permission to exploit your work.

A copyright notice in the following format could be satisfactory for a track:

  • © Songwriter name(s) and the year.

A copyright notice in the following format could be satisfactory for a recording:

  • ℗ Name of recorded master owner and the year.

If you want to get the maximum protection made possible by the applicable laws, (for instance court awarded money damages in an infringement lawsuit) you need to register your work with the applicable governmental office in your nation.

For more info go to the US or Canadian copyright registration resources.

What rights does my music copyright cover?

What your copyright covers rely on what your country’s copyright statutes and laws provide.

Most copyright laws sometimes provide you with control over what you can do with your work, and what you could stop others from doing if they attempt to exploit your work without your consent.

The most common rights covered are:

  • The right to make copies/reproductions
  • The right to sell your work
  • The right to adapt your work
  • The right to license your work
  • The right to perform, broadcast or transmit your work

For more details about intellectual property go to the US or Canadian copyright websites.

Do I have to register my music copyright?

Not necessarily.

In Canada and the US, copyright arises on completion of the work so long as you’ve it fixed in some medium—not just an idea in your head.

However, if you wish to get the maximum protection for your copyright, and provide a method for people to contact you about utilizing your work, you need to register your music with your country’s copyright office.

How does music copyright impact how I get paid for my music?

A music copyright gives you rights for your intellectual property which are similar to other property rights.

Similar to the kind of property that you could hold in your hand, the concept of copyright allows you to sell your music, give others permission to use your music or restrict others from exploiting your intellectual property without your permission.

Getting paid for your copyrights can take on many kinds.

The most common methods to earn money from the use of your copyrights are in the type of streaming royalties, downloaded files, appearances of the record as part of a movie or in a video game and performances on the radio or at a live concert.

Keep in mind, the track that’s on these recordings also earns money from these sources.

How do I make sure I’m getting all my royalties?

How the cash flows to you take on many kinds as well. There are many administrators worldwide who facilitate payment from these varying uses to you, the copyright holder.

They include:

These entities collect cash from all parties who utilize music like radio station online music streaming services, digital download retailers, movie theatres, restaurants and disperse that money to the copyright owners.

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