Protect your music: A guide for artists on copyright

The world of copyright can be a complicated one but as an artist or creator it is VITAL you understand how your work is protected by the law and how to ensure you have the protection you need.

Copyright can seem like a scary word sometimes. COPYRIGHT! See what I mean? But don’t worry, with a little knowledge you and copyright will be the best of friends.

Copyrights are all about security: music copyrights provide the legal protection of – you guessed it – music!

Music is a wonderful thing, especially as a creator. But it can be a cruel world out there; people sampling music without permission, stealing melodies (ahem Robin Thicke ahem), singing lyrics as if they are their own. You want to make sure your creative work is protected from this. 

There are two types of copyright for music recordings:

Performing Arts (PA) Copyright – Composition

The composition copyrights apply to the substance of your music this means lyrics, chords, melody – everything that makes it unique.

Composition copyrights apply from the point of creation in the US. So, as soon as you have written your lyrics on paper, transcribed your music notation down, or even just recorded a voice memo – you now own the PA copyright to your piece.

The copyrights of compositions typically go to songwriters, composers and publishers making up the Publishing industry. Publishers make their profits by helping artists to copyright compositions that they think have a lot of potential.

Sound Recording (SR) Copyright – Master

This is the actual recording of your music. The version that’s on your SoundCloud, the file that’s on your computer, what play’s when you press play on your DAW.

As with compositions, master recordings become copyrighted from the moment they become tangible (i.e. recorded). If your sound recording is fixed, meaning it is captured in a medium from which it can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated – you can now claim ownership of it.

The copyrights of master recordings typically belong to the performers (who performed on the recording) and the copyright owners which are often a record label. The record industry makes it’s money from the sale and use of sound recordings.

A short recording may lack sufficient amount of authorship to warrant copyright protection if it is very short. This applies to all work, for example a few words could not be copyrighted by an author the same as a poem or novel could.

Master recording copyrights do not apply when they are accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual works. When accompanying a piece of film the recording is considered part of that motion picture or audiovisual work and not it’s own entity so will come under the copyright of that.

To win a suit regarding your master recording you must:

  1. Show that your creation existed first
  2. Prove that whoever has copied your work was aware of it before

Sampling ‘n’ Stuff

Okay, now we need to talk about Derivative Sound Recordings. A lot of the people who upload their music to RouteNote to get their music on all the top services are talented producers who might sample, chop and remix from other tracks. Copyright applies here the same as anywhere else.

So first of all – YOU MUST HAVE PERMISSION. Depending on the artist or work you will normally need a license to use someone else’s music in your own. Written permission from smaller artists will normally suffice as long as you ensure they are the sole copyright holders.

For derivative sound recordings – an audio recording that incorporates pre-existing sounds, such as sounds that were previously registered or published or sounds that were fixed before February 15, 1972 – the pre-existing sounds must have been altered or utilised in a way that makes it different from it’s original recording.

As long as you have in some way changed the source material (basically you can’t just steal a track and do nothing to it) and have acquired permission (which it’s best to have in writing for your protection) then you’re all set to sample, remix, re-work and have fun with other recordings!


Your content may be protected from the point of creation but to take legal action against someone to protect it you must formally register your Sound Recording and Performing Arts protection with the United States Copyright Office.

To register with the US Copyright Office you need:

  1. A completed application form (Read below for advice)
  2. A non-refundable filing fee – $35 for a single author work. Save money by submitting an EP or Album in it’s entirety
  3. The required ‘deposit’ of your work – recommended a digital file that cannot exceed 500 MB in size.
  4. If submitting your work in a physical format, print a shipping slip after completing the online application form and deposit it in the same package as your ‘deposit’.
  5. You can submit up to ten unpublished sound recordings using the online group registration of unpublished works. Must be unpublished and created by the same author(s) with all authors named as copyright claimants.
  6. Multiple sound recordings can be submitted as a ‘collective work’. For example a digital album or CD. This will cover the individual sound recordings as well if they are owned by the same party and they have not been previously published or registered and aren’t in the public domain.
  7. You can register multiple sound recordings with text and artwork as a ‘unit of publication’. This applies if they were physically packaged or bundled together and if all the recordings were published together in the unit.
  8. Once submitted it becomes part of the public record and cannot be returned.
Guide to completing the Application form:

Type of Work

  • When you begin an application, select the “Sound Recording” option on the “Type of Work” screen. The questions you encounter when filling out the application are based on the choice
    you make at the beginning of the application. If you select the wrong option you will need to
    start over.

Title

  • Provide the title exactly as it appears on the work itself.

Publication

“Publication” occurs when phonorecords of a work are distributed to the public by sale, transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. Offering to distribute phonorecords to a group of persons for the purpose of further distribution or publicly performing the work also constitutes publication.

Simply performing a sound recording publicly does not constitute publication.

  • If the work has not been published, state that the work is “unpublished.”
  • If the work has been published, give the month, day, and year that phonorecords were first distributed to the public or first offered to a group of persons for further distribution or public
    performance.

Author

  • The author of a sound recording is the performer featured in the recording and the producer
    who captured and processed the sounds that appear in the final recording.
  • If the performer or producer created the sound recording during the course of his or her employment under a typical employment relationship, then the sound recording is a work made for hire, and the employer is the author of the sound recording.
  • If the performer or producer created the sound recording for a third party as a compilation or contribution to a collective work, and if the parties agreed in writing that the sound recording will be a “work made for hire,” then the third party is the author of the work.
    For more information on works made for hire, see Works Made for Hire (Circular 30)

Type of Authorship

  • When registering a sound recording, check the box for “Sound Recording”
  • When registering artwork, photographs, or text of liner notes, include a brief statement to that
    effect in the “Other” field.
  • When registering a compilation or a collective work (see below), state “compilation of sound recordings” in the “Other” field.

Limitation of Claim

  • When registering a derivative sound recording, identify the preexisting material in the “material excluded” field and identify the new material in the “new material included” field. If the preexisting material has been registered with the Copyright Office, include the registration number and year.

We hope this guide helps you to navigate the turbulent seas of copyrights and that you make sure your work is protected as you want it to be.
We also have a handy guide on the different kinds of Music Licenses you can get here: routenote.com/blog/what-different-music-licenses-mean/
Got any more questions? Get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter.
Head of Social Media and Marketing, RouteNote

How to get verified on Instagram

Get your profile on Instagram verified so that everyone knows they’re looking at the real deal when they see your photos and images. Getting verified on Instagram lets everyone know that you’re legitimate. Whether you’re…

How to get an Official Artist Channel on YouTube

As an artist you want to make sure that your image on any platform represents you as best as possible, especially the world’s favourite video site. YouTube is the internet’s largest home of creators and…

3 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *