#03: Copyright ownership

Copyright is automatic – and collaborators always need to agree ownership…

Copyright is automatic.

This is the really brilliant thing about copyright.

As soon as you write an original song – you create a song copyright

As soon as you record a track – you create a recording copyright.

There are NO forms to fill out, money to pay, permission to be granted – the copyright exists and you have control.

All you have to do is make sure that the work is fixed. So, that means it is written down or recorded.

But if you don’t register a new copyright as it is created, how do we know who owns each copyright?

The law provides us with default ownership rules – so we know who the first owner of any new copyright is.

With songs – the default first owner is whoever writes the song.

With recordings – it is whoever organises and/or pays for a recording to take place.

If more than one person is involved in writing a song or organising a recording session they co-own the resulting copyright.

Whenever music-makers collaborate on writing a song or recording a track they need to reach an agreement about copyright ownership.

Who will own or co-own each copyright? What share does each co-owner get? This is for the collaborators to decide. It’s common for either the label or the main artist to wholly own the recording copyright. With songs the copyright would usually be split between each writer.

Whatever you agree, write it down. A one page ‘split sheet’ is fine. More established artists might get a lawyer to write a short contract. Worse case scenario an exchange of emails would suffice. Or there are apps that can help with this process.

Ideally you should let the music industry know what has been agreed by logging it with the main industry databases

Because copyright is automatic there is no formal registry where you can log each work. However, the music industry has its own databases.

The UK music publishing industry has a big database of songs managed by an organisation called PRS.

The UK record industry has a big database of recordings managed by an organisation called PPL.

So once you start making music you should join these organisations and log your works with their databases.

Default owners of copyright can transfer ownership to another person or company via a signed written agreement – we call this assignment.

The rules around assignment in copyright law are super flexible – this means you can assign…

• Existing and future copyrights.

• A percentage of a copyright.

• Specific controls of a copyright.

• For a set time period or for as long as the controls exist.

• For just specific countries or for the whole world.

The Copyright, Designs & Patents Act refers to the people who write lyrics and compose music as authors and the people who organise recording sessions as producers.

However, day-to-day in the music industry we often use those terms to mean different things – so don’t get confused!

Another important rule in the Act is that if someone creates a new copyright work as an employee of a company, then the employer is the default owner.

The Act says: “Where a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is made by an employee in the course of his employment, his employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work subject to any agreement to the contrary”.

Though that only applies to formal employees – not freelancers. A lot of people in the music industry are freelance. In that case the freelancer would be the default first owner unless a written contract said otherwise.