Music and the copyright that follows

Written by | January 18, 2023


Music can be a right headache! No, I am not commenting on anyone’s particular choice of songs, but rather the mix of copyright protected work and the, often, different owners that can be present for any one song. It is no wonder that musicians so often complain about losing rights to their own music or not being fairly remunerated because they did not fully understand what they had initially agreed to.

Intellectual Property Right

The main form of intellectual property attached to music is copyright; an unregistered intellectual property right that protects the artistic work of the owner. Copyright subsists in three main areas of a song; the lyrics, the musical composition and the recording. Interestingly, each area can be owned by several owners either separately or jointly.

For a singer, it can be troublesome when they are told that they do not own certain rights relating to a song which they believe they own. Often, this means that singers are not paid a large share (let alone the full share) of the profits generated by a song which can seem unfair.

The reason for this is that the copyright for each area can be owned as follows:

  • Lyrics – the copyright subsisting in the lyrics is owned by the author of the lyrics
  • Music – the copyright subsisting in the musical works is owned by the author of the music
  • Recording – the recording of the song is in fact owned by the person who produced the recording, this can often mean that the recording is owned by the owner of the recording studio

To add to the range of ownership considerations, it is also possible that the lyric and music is jointly owned on the basis that it is co-authored. This can occur where two separate elements are created (such as lyrics and music) to be used together.

The saga surrounding Taylor Swift and her intention to re-record her songs to own the master rights to the recording, following her displeasure at the sale of her master rights attached to those songs, is well publicised and an example of how singers at all levels can be affected by the issues surrounding copyright law.

Practical Considerations

It is always worth seeking legal advice early on to ensure things are done correctly from the outset and disputes are avoided as much as possible as your music gains the success you just know it will.

Ensure that you have a contract agreed which clarifies the rights that you have and that which any other party has as well as making sure you have clear evidence of how and when your work was created, evidencing its originality and the time it was created.

Here at Briffa we offer a free 30-minute consultation in which we can discuss any questions that you may have and ensure that you are well placed to get things right. Get in touch with if you would like to arrange a meeting.

Written by Mohammad Khan – Solicitor

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