Understanding Copyright

By Frank Dee

In the UK, the following can be copyright: Music, Text, Recording, Broadcast, Film, Publication (layout), Art, and Drama.

However, song titles and most (separate) musical arrangements are not subject to copyright. This means that for a typical CD package, copyright exists for the words and music on the tracks; the recordings of the tracks themselves; the artwork on the CD, inserts and booklets; plus any other text on the CD, inserts and booklets.

Technically, in the UK, your work is copyright automatically as soon as it’s written down or recorded in some way.

It’s important to remember the distinction between the copyright in the song and the copyright in the sound recording. Both may be owned by different parties and generate separate income.

If you are the writer of the music and the lyrics, then you will be the first copyright owner of the musical copyright work and the literary copyright work.

You may choose to appoint a publisher to administer/exploit the copyright and assign to them the right to receive subsequent royalty payments on your behalf.

If your song is recorded and a master sound recording is created, a new and separate copyright exists; namely, the copyright in the sound recording.

This is owned by the person(s) who made the arrangements necessary for the making of the sound recording – usually the record company.

At the moment, copyright in the song lasts for 70 years from the death of the writer, whereas the copyright in the sound recording lasts for 50 years from first release or publication.

This explains why the BPI, on behalf of record companies, and artists such as Cliff Richard (who sang on, but did not write his recordings) are now frantically lobbying the government to extend the term before all those rock ‘n’ roll recordings of the late 1950s become out of copyright.

To prove ownership of your copyright, it’s best to keep sealed, dated masters with a third party, such as a bank or solicitor. The standard advice has always been to post a copy to yourself and keep it sealed, with a clear postmark date – probably OK, although some legal experts have warned that this method might not be entirely foolproof.

You don’t, strictly speaking, need a copyright statement, but it won’t do any harm to include something like this:

© Your name, year, all rights reserved (a P in a circle is used for recordings).


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