Copyright covers songs, including the musical composition and the lyrics, sound recordings, film, artwork and photography. In the UK, copyright law affords the owner the exclusive rights to copy, distribute, rent, adapt, perform or broadcast the work. So when someone else wants to do one of those things, say a shop wants to play a record, or a video game wants to sync a song, they must pay the copyright owner for the right to do so.
In British law, there is no need to register or apply for copyright of creative output. As soon as the work, for example, a song is created, it is automatically copyrighted to the songwriter or songwriters by default. In the case of recorded songs, the copyright defaults to the person, or company, who paid for the recording. If the material was co-written, all co-writers are recognised as copyright owners, however, the exact split must be determined by all the owners. Say one person wrote significantly more than the others, this can be reflected in a percentage split of the copyright. However for this to stand up legally it must be in writing and signed by all the co-owners.
The length of time a copyright lasts varies depending on what country you’re in. In the UK, a song’s copyright lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years. In the case of a recording, the copyright runs out 70 years from the day the recording was made.
Selling your permission to use a song is called licensing. In some rare cases, this will be direct. The person who wants to use a song approaches the owner of the copyright and strikes a deal. More often, this licensing happens through a collecting body, ours in the UK is called PRS for songwriters and PPL for recording artists. Every time a club plays your track, or a radio station drops your latest hit, rather than agree on a deal each time, these establishments have a setup with the collecting bodies, which will track plays and gather royalties on the behalf of artists and songwriters, before distributing those earnings.
The other form of intellectual property, which can be lucrative for big stars, is trademarking. Names and logos can be trademarked, meaning only the owner has the permission to use them. Other companies will then need to pay to create products using these trademarks, for example, drinks, perfume, clothing, gadgets.
Understanding intellectual property is essential as it is one of the quickest and most important ways for artists to earn money from their music. Ensuring that your creativity and your brand are owned exclusively by you, the artist, can maximise your earning potential. Further down the line, these copyrights may be entered into a record or publishing deal, so it will become even more important that they are in place.
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