Copyright: what every musician needs to know

Авторско право - RENEWSOUND звукозаписно студио

There are two distinct elements of any recorded musical work that can be protected by copyright:

the musical work (a written description of the arrangements in sheet music and lyrics) and a sound recording (a physical recording of the performance of that song).

So if you record a cover version of a song by the band X, you are the creator and owner of the recording, and the band X is the owner of the underlying musical work. This is a simple enough distinction, and one that is essential to understanding the basic concept of music copyright and the music business in general.

For example, the rights enforcement organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) and the Harry Fox Agency will collect and distribute royalties for your musical works. In contrast, the non-profit organization SoundExchange will collect and distribute your digital play royalties for your recordings (think Pandora and satellite radio plays of your tracks).

When you register musical copyright works with the Copyright office, your musical works will be published and included using a PA copyright form, and sound recordings will be registered with an SR copyright form.
Both forms are registration forms that are completed and submitted to the Copyright Office.
With the © symbol, you can let the world know about your ownership of a piece of music. Copyright on the sound recording is marked with the symbol ℗.

Do I need to do anything to copyright my sound recording or musical work?
No. Legally speaking, an original work is copyrighted when it is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression”. What does this mean colloquially? Your original material is copyrighted the moment you write it down on sheet music, save it to your iPhone, edit it, etc. You don’t have to register your work with the Copyright Office, and put a © next to the song title on your sheet music, or send yourself a copy of the recording by email to have a valid copyright.

Do I even have to bother registering my songs with the Copyright Office?

Yes! Submitting your musical work or sound recording to the Copyright Office will give you good options as the copyright owner.
Here are some incentives: If you submit a completed copyright form within three months of publication of your work and infringement is registered, you can recover attorneys’ fees of up to $150,000 in statutory damages for infringement. The submission will also make clear the fact that you are the true owner of the work. Registration can also be seen as a form of insurance against possible future unauthorized use of your work. Timely registration can settle the financial viability of your copyright infringement case in your favor.
Registration is relatively inexpensive ($55) and can be done online. In many cases, one registration form can cover many works.

Is there anything I should think about when making music together with someone else?

Copyright law has some special rules for co-authors. When two or more people work together with the intention of writing a song, they are usually the owners of the composed musical work. Copyright law regards this as a collaborative work. As joint owners, authors can exploit the musical work in certain ways (for example, use the song in a film or advertisement), provided they pay their co-author a share of the royalties. Note. Each co-author can independently license the song without obtaining the other’s permission!

You should also be aware that in a situation where one author contributes to a certain part of the composition – for example, the lyrics – the lyrics remain co-owned by the musical work, even if they are later removed. Although the copyright rules for the creation of joint works are generally clear, it is a better idea in this case for the co-authors to enter into a written cooperation agreement. This is especially true in cases where you want a different division of fees or application rights.

Everything you need to keep in mind when recording and playing a cover?

After artists release their musical works, anyone can create and distribute their own sound recording of the work (i.e. release a cover), as long as they hold a mechanical license and pay the owner a music fee (Currently worth 9.1 cents for a copy of the song). It might sound complicated, but it’s actually a fairly painless process that can be done online through the Harry Fox agency or others. Once you secure this license, you do not need the permission of the composer or publisher. And remember: when you play a cover song, you own the recording. You can register with the Copyright Office. To stop unauthorized duplication. You may collect fees from SoundExchange for distribution. But this mechanical license does not cover the synchronization of the musical work with video. What does this mean? If you want to make a music video, or if someone wants to license your sound recording for a film or commercial, you’ll need permission and a sync license from the composer or publisher of the original.

Music copyright law can be a confusing world, even for the well-informed. If you want to go deeper, some of the resources at the Copyright Office are a good place to start. Regarding the regulation of copyright and related rights in Bulgaria, you can view the information provided on the page of the “MUSIKAUTOR” organization.

The post is about the registration and settlement of copyright in the United States, but ASCAP allows authors and performers from all over the world to register with this organization. So it doesn’t matter that the author is from Bulgaria. He can register wherever he wants. But still, you judge what rights these organizations govern. Because when you act as a member of this type of organization and pay dues, you are expected to get certain options and protections for that. Accordingly, the law of the country in which that company or agency is registered, protecting your rights, applies. If you register in the United States, and you make music in the Bulgarian language and it is mainly distributed in Bulgaria, registration with ASCAP would help you if an artist from the United States infringes your rights. (Where did this luck come from … 🙂 ) Then local legislation with the assistance of the organization you are a member of will protect your rights. However, what happens if you are not a member of ASCAP, make music in Russian and are registered with the Russian Copyright Protection Organization, and an artist from the United States violates your rights? It doesn’t actually break anything because you don’t have any there! 🙂

It’s a bit weird and confusing. When it becomes clear what is happening to music after the long digital transition, then perhaps there should be a single international organization with uniform copyright rules. However, global globalization is outpacing the organization of music rights worldwide. Now, it still seems to serve the interests of companies that do not seek to globalize the music business.
Quite interesting facts and problems of the industry in this transition are discussed in Jared Leto’s documentary – “Artifact”.
Talking about an industry might sound a bit exaggerated. Nothing of the kind. The music industry is in second place in monetary turnover per year after the military … 🙂

Another post is planned for the regulation and basic provisions of copyright in Bulgaria.