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What is copyright

Essentially, copyright gives creators various rights over how their creations are used. These rights include other people or companies requiring the creator’s permission to make copies of the work, making alterations to the work and so on. Find out more about what it means for performers in a sound recording.

Who owns copyright

The person who created the work is the ‘first owner’ of the copyright. For music this means the person or persons who wrote the music and/or lyrics for a composition and the person who ‘made the arrangements’ for a sound recording to be made.

If more than one person is involved in writing a piece it is essential to record what the shares of ownership are as soon as possible.

Likewise, if someone else has organised the studio and production of your album and you have not paid for it you will probably not own the master in the eyes of music copyright law.

However, works can be assigned from one owner to another, provided that the assignment is in writing and is signed by the person assigning the work.

What works can acquire copyright

Copyright can subsist in:

  • Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works.
  • Sound recordings, films and broadcasts.
  • The typographical arrangement of published editions.

Copyright can also exist in an arrangement or orchestration of a musical work, quite separately from the copyright in the original musical work.

How long does copyright last?

  • Lyrics: the life of the author plus 70 years
  • Music: the life of the composer plus 70 years. 
  • Sound recordings: 70 years from the end of the calendar year of release if first released after 1963

Moral rights

What are moral rights

  • The right to be identified as the author (or director) of the work but this must be asserted in writing and some contracts will try to ask you to waive this.
  • The right to object to derogatory treatment of your work.
  • The right not to have a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work falsely attributed to you as the author.
  • The right to privacy of photographs and films allows you to prevent copies being made and issued to the public if you commissioned the photos or film for private purposes.
  • No right of privacy would arise where photos of your band have been legitimately commissioned for promotional or business use.

Performers’ rights 

What are performers’ rights

In a similar manner to Copyright, these give a Performer some control over the use or exploitation of their performance.

Some of the keys rights are ‘non-property’ rights meaning that they cannot be sold or given away, such as not to be recorded (except for private use) or broadcast live without their consent and to Equitable Remuneration from broadcast of commercially released audio recordings.

A Performer’s property rights allow other to acquire the use of their recorded performance. It is why it is essential to use MU Consent forms and/or the MU’s Contract Advisory Service whenever undertaking a recording project as otherwise you are likely to have inadvertently given away more, or even all, use of your performance.

How long do performers’ rights last?

Typically, for a sound recording they last 70 years from the end of the calendar year that it was released and 50 years from release for films and most other media. Where the release not within the same year these terms can become more complicated so if you are unsure please contact the MU.