Copyright exists the moment a piece of music, a song or lyric is committed to any form of tangible media. For example; recorded on a CD or other recording media including a computer hard drive, Written, printed or in manuscript form. However, once you have created your work and believe it has a commercial value then it is important you take appropriate steps to protect it by ensuring rightful ownership has been documented and all rights have been attributed to the legal copyright owner.
The best and most effective way of protecting your work is to register your copyrights with a reputable copyright organization or agency.
If you are a citizen or subject of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom. Japan, The EU, or a person ordinarily residing in any of the following?;
- A country that is a signatory or has ratified The Berne Convention. (This covers approximately 95% of all countries) You can check your countries status here.
- A country that recognises and upholds the principles of the Universal Copyright Convention.
- A signatory of the Rome Convention. (for sound recordings, performer’s performances)
- Or a country that is a member of the World Trade Organization. (WTO).
If you answer yes to any of the statements above, you can register your songs, music and lyrics with the Songrite Copyright Registration Office.
Poor Man’s Copyright:
The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself in a sealed envelope or package is often referred to as a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the text of international copyright law that recognises this as a reliable alternative to registration. Therefore the process of placing reliance on the “poor man’s copyright” is not a viable substitute for registration.
Who is responsible for copyright?
Many people believe copyright and intellectual property rights are somehow monitored or policed by the “state”. This is usually untrue. It is entirely in the hands of the copyright / intellectual property rights owners to make sure their interests and rights are protected. The law only provides the necessary apparatus, but it is the copyright owner’s responsibility to use that apparatus. Copyright registration of any piece of original work reinforces proof of copyright ownership.
Who legally owns the copyright?
The general rule is that the author of the work is the first holder of copyright; however, if the work is made by an employee in the course of employment then the employer (not the author) is the first owner of copyright, unless there is an agreement to the contrary between the employer and the employee.
Shared copyright ownership:
Where two or more have created a work protected by copyright and their contributions cannot be distinguished, those people are joint authors and the copyright is shared. Examples include; where one person has written the music and another person has written the lyrics or shared writing a complete song even if the split is not 50 – 50; The law says that two people, the producer and principal director, are joint authors of a film.
Selling or transferring copyright rights:
Copyright is a form of property which, like physical property, can be bought or sold, inherited, licensed or otherwise transferred, wholly or in part. Accordingly, some or all of the rights may subsequently belong to someone other than the first owner and may be shared. In contrast, the moral rights accorded to authors of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and film directors remain with the author or director or pass to his or her heirs on death.
What can be copyrighted?
Literary works, musical works, and dramatic works. Most digital media, including email, music, web pages, and graphics are also protected by copyright. Realistically, one should accept that anything someone has created and has taken the trouble to put into a tangible form is copyrighted and thus protected.
What cannot be copyright registered:
- Ideas are not protected by copyright. Copyright does extend to the form of expression used by an author in conveying or explaining his or her ideas but does not extend to the ideas themselves which become public property the moment they are disclosed.
- In order to be eligible for protection under the Copyright Act, a work must contain a minimal amount of original creative authorship, be it in the literary, musical or artistic fields. Slogans, short phrases and names do not usually meet this requirement and are generally not protected under copyright legislation.
- A title is used to identify a work and is not usually, in itself, protected by copyright.
- Names, words, symbols or designs used in association with or to identify, goods or services are eligible for protection under the Trade-marks Act.
A work can only be original if it is the result of independent creative effort. It will not be original if it has been copied from something that already exists. If it is similar to something that already exists but there has been no copying from the existing work either directly or indirectly, then it may be original.
The term “original” also involves a test of substantiality – literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works will not be original if there has not been sufficient skill and labour expended in their creation. But, sometimes significant investment of resources without significant intellectual input can still count as sufficient skill and labour.
Ultimately, only the courts can decide whether something is original.
There is much case law indicating, for example, that names and titles do not have sufficient substantiality to be original and that, where an existing work is widely known, it will be difficult to convince a court that there has been no copying if your work is very similar or identical.
Music / Songs
Copyright applies to a musical composition when it is set down in permanent form, either by writing it down or in any other manner. With a song there will usually be more than one copyright associated with it. If you are the composer of the music you will be the author of the musical work and will have copyright in that music. The lyrics of a song are protected separately by copyright as a literary work. The person who writes the lyrics will own the copyright in the words.
If your work is subsequently recorded the sound recording will also have copyright protection. The producer of the recording will own the copyright in the sound recording.
Composers of music may also have moral rights in their work.
Copyright is like any form of physical property in that you can buy it, sell it, inherit or otherwise transfer it, wholly or in part. Therefore, some or all of the economic rights may subsequently belong to someone other than you, the first owner.
Claiming Ownership of Your Works:
Securing copyright ownership with the Songrite Copyright Office is a simple formality intended to make a true record of the basic facts of that particular work. You can register the copyrights of all your original songs, music and lyrics at any time, by submitting a single song, or an entire album of up to fourteen (14) songs.
Other Inclusive Rights:
A copyright protected work can have more than one copyright, or other (intellectual property) right, connected to it. For example, an album of songs or music can have separate copyrights for individual songs, sound recordings, arrangements, artwork, and so on.
Copyright registration can also protect the artwork of your Album, logo, your band / stage name, however, these can also be protected under “Trade Marks”.
The Copyright Act.
- The Copyright Act defines a musical work as any work of music or musical composition with or without words and includes compilations thereof. Lyrics without music are protected by copyright as a literary work.
- When a song is recorded on a tape, record or compact disc, it is automatically protected by copyright as a “sound recording” which is defined as a recording, fixed in any material form, consisting of sounds.
- Copyright registration will ensure the original songwriters, authors, creators, etc. are accurately accredited as the copyright owners and effectively retain full control of the registered copyright that relates to their creative work.