Copyright & Royalties Explained

copyright explained

Songwriters should always copyright their work as soon as completed but what exactly is ‘Copyright’ and why should you use it?.

Any original work (lyrics/music etc) is your property as soon as it is created and lasts for approximately 70 years after your death before anyone can use it without your permission, unless it is assigned to some other person by selling it, lending it (for a fee or not), or giving it away.  You will need to protect your masterpiece and provide proof of ownership in case of future dispute. If there is more than one songwriter they should agree a contribution split and each sign a confirmation of agreement.

Titles, names, slogans and phrases cannot be copyrighted although you may be able to apply for a Trademark from the UK Patent Office or search their website for existing names.

Neither can you copyright material already in the ‘Public Domain’, or an ‘Idea’ although a composer may take action if it is considered that others are using their work and claiming it to be their own.  Owning or controlling the ‘copyright’ means you have the right to copy and use it as you wish, prevent someone else copying that work and charge others for copying/using or performing it.

Although registration is not required in the UK, in is important that the creator has a means of proving ownership in the case of despute. Registering your work with an independent body or legal advisor provides the copyright holder with independant proof that is acceptable in a court of law.

There are several ways to Copyright your work:-

Always write the copyright information on your demos, lyric sheet, music score, cds or any other recorded material cover in this format © Date, Name. All songs are copyright control.  The copyright in these sound recordings is owned by (Name). All Rights Reserved.  This should be done prior to enclosing all works in an envelope which should be signed and dated across the seal.  To ensure copyright use one or more of the following:-

Send a copy (never send the original!) of your demo and/or lyric to yourself by registered post. Keep it in a safe place unopened.

Place a copy into a Bank Safe Deposit Box, with a Solicitor, Accountant, or similar professional ensuring that the sealed envelope is signed and dated by both yourself and the Manager or Solicitor who should also provide a receipt (preferably on headed paper with all song titles included).

Writers Copyright Association
The WCA is a UK copyright service with prices per registered work ranging from £25 for 5 years to £80 for 20 years. Also contains sample contracts (Life Story, Screenplay option, Standard Release Form, Writers Collaboration, Licensing Rights to an Article).

UK Copyright Service
registers original works and provides information on Intellectual Property Registration, Copyright and other related UK law.  The registration fees are £30 for 5 years and £60 for 10 years. The work can be written or sent in on CD ROM, Compact disc, Floppy disc, Cassette tape, VHS video tape, Paper documents/books although other formats may be accepted for a further fee. You may register a group of songs at one time for one fee.

If your song has been used without your permission and you can prove copyright ownership you need to seek legal advice from a music lawyer or solicitor before approaching the offending user/company.  Click Here for links to Copyrighting Resources.

Read Copyright – the Truth an introduction provided by Independent Music Law Advisor Elliot Chalmers.

Also note that unless you are the writer and performer of original unpublished works, it is necessary to obtain permissions and/or licences from three sources to use music on the Internet. In the UK these are: MCPS for musical composition, PRS for performance and permission from the record company. This includes everyone from personal pages, hobby sites as well as commercial sites and internet radio stations. Visit Internet and Licensing from Sterling Times containing correspondence regarding the requirements that caused the webmaster to remove his content.

The Cover Song Quagmire: Legally Recording/Distributing Cover Songs

Patent Explained

A Patent is intended to cover products or processes that contain functional or technical aspects. It is normally granted by the government to the inventor for a limited period to prevent others from copying, using or selling the invention without their permission. These Patents are territorial. This means that a UK Patent only gives the holder rights within the UK including importing their patented products into the UK.

This means that most artists or bands will be unlikely to require a Patent as it’s qualifying requirements do not include literary, dramatic or artistic works. The only time Patent would be relevant for a musician is if they had invented a new musical instrument, adapted a piece of technical equipment or created a unique product. Return To Top

Royalties Explained

Anyone who wishes to use all or part of your work for publishing or performance purposes are required to pay for a copyright or performance licence. These fees are paid to a collection agency who then forward them to the creator of the musical, artistic or literary work.

‘Royalty’ is the term used for the portion of funds allocated for payment on a piece of work.  These are split between the record company, publisher, songwriter and performer depending on the type of royalty.  There are several royalties which are gathered and distributed by collection agencies:-

Songwriters/Composers Royalties
Performance Royalties – Paid either directly or indirectly when the work is publicly performed.  This includes live performance, record, broadcast, TV, Film or video.  They are usually collected by organisations like MCPS – PRS Alliance the mechanical copyright and performing rights alliance, Phonographic Performance Limited or similar group who then pay either directly to the author or indirectly through a publisher / recording company, artist agent, manager or other authorised personnel to the authors and performers. NOTE:- You do not require a Recording or Publishing contract to claim Broadcast Royalties but you will need to know the titles, dates/times etc!  PRS also hold Seminars on Music Industry & Artist Information.

Mechanical Royalties – Paid by record companies for the right to manufacture records embodying the work.  These are usually collected and distributed by the relevant countries collection agency.

Artist/Performers Royalties
Are completely separate from royalties due for Songwriters/Composers although also collected and distributed by MCPS – PRS Alliance and similar organisations.  These are paid by the record companies to the artist or band that performed the song/s released by the company and the percentage figure is included in the recording contract. If the songwriter is also the performer of the tracks then they will receive the percentage of performance royalties as well as writing royalties.  These royalties are usually negotiable but often 10% – 15%.

The Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) are a UK collection and distribution organisation for performers. They collect and pay royalties out to performers for the broadcast of their recorded performances. If you are an artist who has made a commercial recording that has been broadcast or played in public then you may be due royalty fees.

Royalties Payments Services – More than 5,000 performers have royalties owed to them. This includes unsigned bands and musicians as well as established acts, all of whom may have royalties owed from airplay and venues….. Read the Royalty Payment Service FAQ or visit Royalties Reunited to register (free).

When you are employed to perform at a UK event, concert or gig, the venue, organiser, agent or promoter is responsible for paying copyright royalties, to the collection agency, which are then distributed to the song’s creators and publishers. At one point the licence payment required the event holder to provide a list of all the tracks performed for each event. If the artist performs original tracks instead of covers, it is important to keep a list of all tracks performed including date, time and venue to enable them to claim any royalty payments that may be due.

In other countries like the US, the performer is required to licence the right to perform the song and applies to the publisher or author of the songs for permission of use which may be given freely or supplied for a fee depending on the intended use.

Royalties are usually collected and distributed approximately twice a year. Return To Top

Trademarks Explained

A Trademark is usually defined as a name, logo, image, photograph, slogan or piece of text that distinguishes an item or service from another. This sort of identifiable symbol is used by companies, bands and singers to create an instantly recognised ‘brand identity that sets them apart from other similar services or products. For instance, a band can ‘Trademark’ their Band Name and Logo to prevent others from using them.

A good example of a ‘Trademark’ image is the ‘Apple’ corporation whose neat little logo instantly identifies their trademark to the viewer.

In the UK the Patent Office oversees the registration of Trade Marks and it states that: “To be registerable, a trademark must be distinctive for the goods/services for which registration is sought and not deceptive, or contrary to law or morality and not identical or similar to any earlier marks for the same or similar goods/services.”

Deliberate use of a mark currently registered by a company or individual without their knowledge is a criminal offence known as counterfeit. The guilty party can be sued for infringement under the trademark laws if you can show that their mark is being used on a similar product or service and bears a resemblance to your own.

Owners of unregistered marks can still prevent others from using them by proving prior use and convincing a court that the other party is using a word, logo or image that is associated with you. Return To Top

Books on Copyright
In Association with &

This is just a small selection of books and audiobooks available. Visit our Books For Singers to see the full list which includes exercises, music theory, vocalises, sheet music, audition repertoire, and tuition books for singers of all standards and styles.

A User’s Guide to Copyright by Michael F. Flint Butterworth

Widely regarded as the leading introductory text for copyright law, Flint: A User’s Guide to Copyright is now in its fifth edition. This acclaimed book explains the law and scope of copyright and provides answers to the problems that arise in practice. The text takes account of significant developments emanating from the EC including the European Design Directive, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the Data Protection Act 1998. The text covers design and industrial designs, EU law and copyright, copyright and designers and online services, making this a highly accessible reference source for both specialist IP lawyers and anyone who has any involvement with copyright law.

A User’s Guide to Copyright –
A User’s Guide to Copyright –