Music Law

Music Law is a minefield, unless you intend to study and qualify in the subject then professional legal advice is essential. It is important to learn the basics before embarking on a career in music. Areas like contracts, copyright, management, agents and performance need to be addressed before launching yourself onto the circuit.

Even if you are only intending to perform in local venues for fun and a bit of extra cash, there are guidelines which the savvy musician should follow:

For instance, in the UK a venue, promoter or event organiser, must obtain a licence from their local council before they can host a live music event. In the past, when promoters and venues have ignored this ruling, the council officers were entitled to stop the event and in some cases have seized all equipment! Although in most cases the musicians equipment has been returned, it hardly makes for an encouraging night out when your performance is stopped in the middle of a stomping gig and the organiser won’t pay you because of the incident.

So how do you protect yourself? Easy – Venues are required to display a current Music & Entertainment Licence in the bar, if in doubt contact the councils licensing office who can inform you wether the venue or event is licensed or if a license is required. If you are intending to organise or promote your own event a ‘public performance licence’ will need to be applied for. Costs vary depending on what it’s in aid of and the size of the event i.e., amount of people. A new act was passed in 2003 which comes into effect sometime in 2004 to replace the existing licencing system. The new act is complicated and covered extensively at the HMSO UK Legislation site and there are press releases available at the Musicians Union website.

A variety of contracts will be encountered if you work or write songs. When starting, these do not have to be complicated…….a few lines or pages can be enough depending on the circumstances and type of contract. A local band or artist will not need the same amount of terms and conditions that a major artist would require, which is why any contract should be reviewed as your career progresses. You may never need (or want) to sign a management, publishing or recording contract, but sooner or later some form of legally binding agreement will be produced for you to sign. For further information and example contracts Click Here.

Songwriters, Lyricists and Composers will need to protect their original material by copyrighting each piece before sending out demo’s, live performance or uploading the work to a website. NEVER upload your work to your own website unless you are prepared for it to be distributed free or use a secure server for your sales.

Other legal aspects include streaming media and websites, injuries and defamation. Why worry? Well in most cases if you have protected your identity, copyrighted your material, sorted out your contracts and taken out insurance, you should be covered for any eventuality, but it’s all to easy to be blase and not bother, after all.. what could go wrong?

These are just a few issues that you may need to research or seek advice on when working in the music industry……. with the wealth of information available in books and on the internet it is easy to grasp the basics or find a professional entertainment lawyer.

Read an overview of clauses and agreements provided by independent legal advisor Elliot Chalmers.

Music: the Business by Ann Harrison
Our Price: £16.00
The author, a practising media lawyer, takes the reader through the day to day operation of the UK legal practice behind the glamour of the rock and pop world, from first gig to gold disc, from local rag to the cover of “Rolling Stone
Read Reviews at or browse more Marketing Books for Entertainers.

Related Articles & Sites

This is just a small selection from the Articles section. All links open in a new window.

Arts Council of Great Britain
This link leads to a simple guide to UK licensing for circuses and street arts (including buskers).

Live Music Forum
Established in 1993 when it launched a campaign to review the laws restricting live music in England and Wales.

Copyright Infringement in Music
The International Centre for Commercial Law provides actual case stories regarding copyright infringement and judgements made by courts of law online. Note that they have changed their website and articles can only be found by using the article search box.

Attorney Ron Bienstock answers music biz queries.

articles on US Copyright Law, Frequently Asked Questions, US Mechanical Royalty Rates, Royalties & The Pitfalls by Ivan Hoffman, Site also includes downloadable US copyright and other forms.

Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM
Offers its members a range of services for professional musicians, including legal advice from an in-house legal team across a very wide of areas, including contract and copyright.

Law Society of England & Wales
has a directory of solicitors and provides guidance on choosing a solicitor. They also operate the “Lawyers for Your Business” service that provides a free consultation to assess your legal needs.

Law Society for Scotland
directory of solicitors and advice on choosing a solicitor.

Law Society for Northern Ireland
directory of solicitors and advice on choosing a solictor.

Lawyers: What they Do & What they Cost
by Jeffrey & Todd Brabec provides information on legal advisors, lawyer fees, rates, retainers, flat fees, percentages and other related aspects.

Leonard Lowy & Co Solicitors
UK solicitor and artist manager provides articles on UK music law, management, record contracts and band agreements.

Pub Music Law to be Relaxed
BBC News UK article reports on the current investigation into changing the laws regarding the ‘two musicians rule’.