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Music Copyright Laws – Definite Guide to Register & Protect Your Music

April 14, 2021 • 11 min read

Works that require copyright protection vary from products, ranging from books, music, paintings, sculptures and films to computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps and technical drawings.

If you want to be an artist who takes care of all the production chain around your work, you must take some time to understand music copyright laws. As soon as you rise as an artist you might be able to pay someone to register, copyright and organize your royalties income, but wouldn’t it be better to also know how all this process work?

Keep reading this article and you’ll find fundamental information about music copyrights.

Music Copyright Laws

What are copyrights?

It is the protection granted by the State to the creator of musical, literary or artistic works from the moment of its creation and for a certain time. For music, it’s 70 years. From that time on, your work will be on public domain, which means anyone can copy or use your work.

Basically, music copyright laws ensure that you will get paid everytime your musical work is used by a thid party. It does so by providing different kinds of rights through which you can act as to negotiate values and conditions that best fits your will and needs.

If you are dedicated to composing music you should at least know how it works. At first, it seems complicated, but after you learn to register music on copyrights, know that your career will gain more stability and security.

In fact, musical activity has never failed to raise complex issues regarding intellectual property. Such challenges reveal that the scope of making music goes far beyond activities of composition and performance.

The protection of works can be done separately or together. The creative process can include one or more authors, both in terms of lyrics and music.

If multiple authors participate, rights are co-owned. 

In principle, we need to clearify that within copyright there are different rights or layers of rights. 

Music Copyright Laws

Music Copyright Laws

There are basically two characteristic elements that determine the forms of relationships between authors and rights holders: moral and economic rights

1. Who interprets a work: rights of the interpreter

The author can be an owner, hired by a company (legal entity) or an interpreter. Although certain contributions can be identified, this not always will determine the register for a new copyright for that interpretation.

2. Reproduction rights

It helps the author or the rights holder to make a reproduction in any medium and under any circumstances. Every time you place a copyrighted song on any platform, you are exercising the reproduction rights. In other words, it is what grants you mechanical royalties. It also refers to copyrighted songs that range from audiovisual film productions to commercials.

2. Distribution rights

These are the acts performed by the author or holder of the rights to make the work available to third parties.

3. Public communication rights

It concerns exclusively the dissemination of the work.

Contrary to what many people think, music copyright laws emerge the moment a work is created, whatever the format. However, there are platforms that allow you to protect your copyright in a much more secure way.

Check out below important elements for registering music on copyright.

ISRC codes

The owner of the recording is responsible for getting the ISRC code. In fact, it can be assigned by artists, record labels or third parties, known as “ISRC Administrators”, under a contract. In all cases, the only requirement is to have a registration code.

Thus, you don’t need to be a member of an association to request a registrant code to be able to assign ISRC codes to your recordings.

Remember that ISRC codes are assigned only once and remain the same throughout the life of the work. If the rights to a recording that already has an assigned code are sold, the new rights holder must not modify the ISRC code.

Thus, the assignment of an ISRC code is the first step to achieve an adequate management of the recordings and the associated income. But where does this apply?

All digital distributors use ISRC codes. Whether in your databases or stores, including them in various types of information, such as identification of musical tracks in digital streaming platforms.

ASCAP 

What is ASCAP? This is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Editors.

It is an american non-profit organization that protects the music copyright of its members by monitoring public performances of their music. So, whether by broadcast or live, it compensates them accordingly.

ASCAP collects license fees from music users created by its members and distributes them as royalties. Thus, when a song is played, the user does not need to pay directly to the copyright holder. This function has already been done by ASCAP when using a song.

What is BMI music?

BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) is the largest copyright organization in the United States of America. With 70 years of existence, it aims to license companies and other entities that present music publicly. All of this, at a low cost and in a comfortable way, safeguarding the public execution rights of authors linked to the BMI.

Thus, BMI is recognized in the United States copyright law, where it is authorized to license music, representing more than 600,000 authors.

These three, BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, are organizations of Music Copyright Laws, responsible for collecting and distributing royalties for public performances of a musical work in the United States. All of this in relation to the US Copyright Law.

In fact, these organizations act as intermediaries between composers and users of music, protecting intellectual property and facilitating compliance with music licenses.

SESAC music

It’s another big music copyrights organization. The composition must be registered in the SESAC database, in order to properly monitor the executions and the payment of royalties. Registration must be done through registration applications, such as: 

The recording of songs, for example, singles played on the radio, music segments or jingles, are reported in the quarter in which they were received. In fact, if the song was released on the radio, the author through the Internet, delivers all relevant information for that song, which is listed in the SESAC Registration process.

Different countries, different music copyright laws

Well, no so much changes from country to country. But you might be interested on how it works in the rising music market of Brazil, in which it has some substancial differences.

The fist one is that, in Brazil, there’s a commom figure in the process of making a record that rarely shows up in the US. It’s the phonogram producer. That is the person who finances the recording project. In the US most commonly that person is the artist. In Brazil, most of the times, it’s an investor or entrepeneur. What changes here is that the royalties split adds another party to the count.

Another thing is that, regarding especifically music copyrights, there’s a collective enterprise that manages the whole process. It’s like as if SESAC, ASCAP and BMI joint forces and managed a collective body to inspect music copyright laws. So, every artist should register music to that collective enterprise.

If you’ve ever looked up info on how royalties work in Brazil, you might have came across the name ECAD. It’s the collective enterprise that takes care of music copyright laws in Brazil. It’s managed by the biggest PRO’s of the country and keeps record of every recording made in the country, as soon as the artist register it’s work there. It garantees that every party of a record or single music production receives it’s accordingly royalties and credits.

So si you’re interested on brazillian music market you should look for more info on what is ECAD.

How to obtain the copyright for a song

Remember that the more well-known and popular the music, the more expensive the rights and licenses to use it. And, of course, the more difficult it will be to obtain them.

If you really want to buy the copyright for a song, here are the necessary steps for that:

  • Determine whether the song is copyrighted or in the public domain.
  • Identify and contact the rights owner or the artist. You can find the copyrights holder at the database from the organization where the music was registered (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or others)
  • Negotiate the price.
  • Transfer the rights.

Simple, isn’t it?

How to register music: a single song or a disc

Songs and records in general are works of intellectual property. This means that the author has several rights against third parties. In fact, the author protects it’s work to prevent unauthorized uses and cases of plagiarism.

One of the fundamental aspects in the protection of such rights is the registration of works as proof of authorship or ownership of rights. But how do you register music for copyright protection?

In many countries, there is an option to search for general intellectual property registrations, either through private registries or state registries.

Any of these will be easier if you can prove authorship directly.

So, how to copyright music?

You can register music copyrights for: 

  • the rights of authors (such as the composer of a song);
  • interpreters (musicians who, without being authors, participate in the recording);
  • producers (who produced the album under contract);

There is a more specific process if you’re looking for sync licensing.

Music Copyright Laws

How does sampling works in all this?

Is sampling a copyright infringement?

Has it ever happened to you that when you turn on the radio you hear a song and remember it vaguely familiar in some parts? Well, you must have heard what is currently called “sampling”.

In the past two decades, sampling has become an increasingly popular way of making music. It simply consists of extracting fragments of existing musical works and using them to compose new works of creation. In fact, you can understand why this spawned multiple processes.

So, yes, there are sampling music laws.

Works that use sampling can be considered when taken from an original source. In this case, the original author must be cited as the creator or co-author, otherwise it is illegal sampling.

Plagiarism regarding music copyright laws

The first reference to the word plagiarism comes from the Greek “plagiarism” and meant misleading. Nowadays, plagiarists are those who present someone else’s work as if it were theirs. So you might be wondering what is music plagiarism.

The music industry does not escape this and there have been notorious cases of plagiarism even among great musicians.

What is a public performance license?

A public performance license grants permission from the copyright holder to the user to reproduce a work publicly. Likewise, a public performance is defined as a public place where people come together. However, public presentations include broadcasting to the public, such as presentations on the Internet, radio or television.

Thus, an author receives performance royalties each time his music is played, whether in:

  • radio stations;
  • shops;
  • bars;
  • restaurants and nightclubs;
  • TV shows or commercials or live performances.

Organizations that protect copyrights

To protect rights across borders, authors ‘societies sign mutual representation contracts with authors’ societies around the world.

Among the organizations that protect music copyright laws are:

CISAC – the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers. It gathers around 230 companies from all continents and is headquartered in Paris.

BIEM – the International Office of Mechanical Reproduction and Recording Rights Management Societies, which brings together the entities that manage mechanical reproduction rights.

FILAIE – the Ibero-American Federation of Interpreters and Interpreters, which works as an international defense of the intellectual rights of performers, as well as promoting extension and improvement in Ibero-American countries. 

WIPO – the World Intellectual Property Organization that currently has 188 member states, promoting the protection and use of intellectual property worldwide.

Want to cover a cool song respecting music copyright laws?

Nothing like covering a well-known song to shine your artist skills, right? Promoting a cover is a good opportunity for that.

But, without due criteria, those who do so are violating the legislation of author’s rights. Certainly, you also do not want to have trouble with rights holders.

But there are several ways to “use” a song. You must understand how to legally cover a song.

For covers in shows, it is necessary that the directors of the event pay the amount referring to the author’s rights. To register the cover in the physical media distribution, you will need to include authorization from the authors.

You can get in touch with the rights holder to any music trhough the according organization to what the music was registered (ASCAP, SESAC, BMI, or others).

“But it is not for sale or for my CD”. Does not matter. If you want to record a cover song, record companies charge a fee to grant authorization, regardless of what your intentions are as a musician.

Streaming services and Youtube & music copyright laws

In theory, to publish a cover on Spotify, Deezer or Apple Music, you need an authorization from the music author. In fact, YouTube raises very serious legislation from direct authors and has highly qualified mechanisms and employees working on it. So don’t be naive.

Now that you know what it is, how and why music copyright laws are so important, it’s time to dive into the world of copyright.

Have more questions on the subject? Keep reading our articles and leave your comments!

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