How is my music protected by copyright?

Written by Katie Moruzzi | March 30, 2022


Disputes over the ownership of songs and recordings are all too common, but they’re usually entirely avoidable. Given the creative nature of the writing and recording process, it’s not surprising that artists and musicians don’t want to get bogged down in the “legal stuff”. However, understanding that “legal stuff” and how it can affect the ownership and exploitation of your work is really key in any project.

As a starting point, it should be clear from the offset who owns each share of what is being created. There are two key rights to be aware of:

  • Copyright in the composition
  • Copyright in the masters

Copyright in the masters

Firstly, copyright in the masters, also known as Master Rights, refers to the copyright that subsists in the recording itself. These rights are usually the subject of a record deal. The starting point is that the masters belong to the person who has made the necessary arrangements for the recording to take place. In some cases, this is relatively straightforward, i.e. where one person books and pays for the studio, arranges for musicians and sound engineers to be present, and is generally responsible for the project. However, sometimes there may be more than one person who considers they have this level of involvement.

Copyright in the composition

Secondly, copyright in the compositions, also known as Publishing Rights, refer to the rights subsisting in the underlying musical composition, i.e. the lyrics and musical composition of the song. The starting position here is that the publishing rights will belong to the person who wrote the song. This is very straightforward if only one person has written the whole song (including musical composition and lyrics), as this person will own 100% of the publishing rights.

However, where a song has been written collaboratively by more than one writer, there will be a split between the rights. Some songwriter duos split things 50/50, but there are no rules here – it is entirely up to the songwriters to determine how they split things, sometimes on a song by song bases.

How to prevent disputes over rights

The only thing that is crucial to preventing misunderstandings (and potential disputes) is to agree in advance on who will own the Master Rights and what are the splits of the Publishing Rights. Having this understanding from the outset will ensure that you are able to focus on the creative process and not be concerned about where you stand and whether you will be properly remunerated for your work.

If you need help with any aspect of music rights, it may be worth speaking to one of our copyright solicitors.


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