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Can I get some direction on Copyrighting original music

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by slap-a-da-bass, Nov 4, 2018.

  1. slap-a-da-bass


    Sep 28, 2009
    A band I joined has been writing original music, and we don't play any covers.

    Our first release is tracked, and should be ready for publication in January. We, as a band, have no idea how to copyright our original music. We intend to press a CD, and have streaming available.

  2. Kro

    Kro Supporting Member

    May 7, 2003
    New Jersey
    It isn't real difficult in this day and age. Publish it someplace online (like a Bandcamp) with an actual publish date, and list it as rights reserved.

    My understanding is it's pretty much just that simple. No need to send anything to the Library of Congress or get lawyers involved. Good luck!

    Edit: thinking about this more, I believe this was enough to prove ownership should it be contested, but is not a full fledged copyright. For more info, I've referenced this article from Discmakers in the past:

    Disc Makers’ guide to copyrights and licensing
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
  3. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Are you in the US? Copyright law varies a bit from country to country.

    Basic concepts: Copyright exists automatically. You always have a right to your creative work, just by having published it.

    There are two kinds of copyright, or perhaps better two kinds of rights. One is rights in the SONG itself. That usually means melody and lyrics. People who own copyright in the song are entitled to royalties on any recording or performance of it. Any copyright holder in the song is entitled to perform it or record it, also. Note that, in US law, that means that if the song had several co-authors, they're all co-owners of the song and EACH of them can perform or record it, without needing the others' permission. So if, say, the band breaks up, each member who owned song copyrights can still use the songs. They still have to pay the other co-owners royalties, though.

    The other kind is copyright in the RECORDING of the song. Anyone who played on the recording holds copyright IN THAT RECORDING, but not in the song itself. So for instance, if a song were written by a guitarist/vocalist, and recorded by him plus a bassist and drummer, the guitarist/vocalist might be the only owner of copyright in the song but the other two share in copyrights in the recordings, which entitle them to royalties on sales or radioplay, etc., of that recording. That was the Police situation (except it was a bassist/vocalist/songwriter).

    (By the way, this is a common way for naive young musicians to get screwed; they play behind an up-and-coming singer/songwriter for free, in the hope that someday they'll make it big. Then the singer/songwriter gets picked up by a big record label, their band gets fired and replaced by session musicians for a professional recording, and the original band members find themselves with nothing to show for their work but their rights in some demo recordings that they can't sell.)

    Rights can be assigned by contract other than the default. For instance, a session musician will usually waive his rights in the recording in exchange for a fee up front. A band may decide to attribute song ownership to all members rather than specify only individuals as the actual writers.

    When a lot of people think about "copyrighting" a work, what they're really referring to is REGISTERING their copyright. You can do that at www.copyright.gov. Like I said, and as @Kro said, you OWN The copyright automatically, just by having published. The question is, if a dispute arises and someone violates your rights (uses your song without your permission or paying royalties, for instance), can you PROVE that you're the real copyright owner? Registration provides documentation to protect your rights in that situation. It isn't absolute (other documentation might still prove that the person who registered first actually didn't write the song), but it's useful.
    pcake, Snaxster, Mr_Moo and 6 others like this.
  4. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    For doG's sake, register your copyright. If there IS a dispute and actual money involved, lawyers will "get involved". Don't half @$$ it. It's not difficult.
    Marko 1, Mr_Moo and slap-a-da-bass like this.
  5. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    If you don’t register your copyright, you lose out on the ability to file for a temporary injunction against infringement, issue a cease and desist letter, file suit for infringement, and the right to claim statutory damages or file for recovery of legal fees.

    Bottom line: register.

    You don’t need an attorney to actually register a cooyright. It can be done very easily online in a matter of minutes for less than $50.

    But intellectual property law is a deep subject. So reading a good book or two on music licensing and copyrights so you’ll be familiar enough with the subject and the terminology to know what questions to ask (and understand the answers you get) before dropping around $300 to buy an hour of consultation from an attorney who specializes in music law is a smart investment if you’re serious about doing things right.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2018
  6. TexasHeat


    Jun 6, 2015
    If you're in the US, Copyright.gov has a lot of great information. Read the circulars. Each one is pretty specific so you might need to read several before you get a better understanding. At least that was the case for me.

    You own the copyright of created material as soon as it is out of your head and in some kind of tangible form; sheet music, tape, mp3, lyrics and chord sheet, etc. Don't need to be published to own the copyright.

    Registering your copyright only helps you when there is an infringement on your material. Someone steals your song and calls it their own. You hear about these big court cases with Led Zep or George Harrison where they (supposedly) stole from another artist. There is a lot of money involved and those types of cases are probably the exception. I bet the most probability for infringement is with original bands where one member brings a song to the band and then the entire band thinks they wrote the song. For that, a clear written, detailed agreement is the best way to handle that. If you want to bring a song to the band and share songwriting credits with them, that's up to you. U2 does it, they're all rich. But if you write a song, bring it to a band, then the band breaks up, who retains the songwriting credit? You? Everyone? An agreement should cover that.

    What if you're not in the US? Most every country have agreements with each other. What is expected in the US is pretty much the same everywhere else. Almost. One thing I found to be different is the Poorman's Copyright. This is where you put your song in a sealed envelope and you mail it to yourself. The postal mark on the envelope proves the date of submission and you don't need to pay a registration fee. Pretty cool, except in the US it doesn't work. That scenario is not written into law and a judge won't base a decision on it. The difference is that in the UK it is a valid method. Who knew? Well, I guess them guys on the other side of the pond knew.

    You can register a bunch of songs as collection and pay the fee only once. If you ever go to record them with the band, then the sound recording gets registered separately.

    If you go through all the hassles of registering your copyright, which you should, be sure to sign up for a PRO (Performing Rights Org) like BMI so you'll collect royalties from your songs.

    Sorry this post is so wordy. I can get to babbling sometimes.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2018
  7. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    One thing I learned in the course of past TB discussions is that shared ownership of copyright in a song can be different in different countries. As I posted above, in US law EACH co-owner can separately record or perform a song without needing the permission of the others (the others are owed royalties, though). In UK law, I believe, ALL co-owners must consent to any use of their copyrighted material. So in the US, if a band co-writes songs and then breaks up, all former members can go off and continue using the songs they wrote together, whereas in the UK they would all have to agree to letting each other do that. Also UK law presumes the producer to be the default copyright holder, which I don't believe is the case in the US.
    Mr_Moo and TexasHeat like this.
  8. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    The issue is not just registering the songs, but having plans on how to enforce the copyright. Let's say you copyright them, and a band a state over violates it. What are you legitimately going to do? Just like when people insist upon having a written contract with every bar owner, thinking that piece of paper is going to be their salvation.
    TexasHeat likes this.
  9. TexasHeat


    Jun 6, 2015
    Right. Then it becomes a matter of how much money you're willing to lose and where.... royalties or lawyers.
  10. TexasHeat


    Jun 6, 2015

    I didn't know this. But now that you say it, it reminds me there was a riff between David Gilmour and Roger Waters and getting permission, or not...
    hrodbert696 likes this.
  11. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Lawyers have to be paid, like anyone else. But just understand that a copyright is not a panecea.
  12. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Shared ownership is the main area where I've heard about there being a difference. But I think your point is correct that generally copyright in one nation is acknowledged in others as well.
  13. dlb1001


    Jan 30, 2007
    Since you said that your band intends to stream your material, you should read the Music Modernization Act since it gives details on how songwriters get paid from streaming services, like Spotify.

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