What’s copyright and why should you care?

Blog by Musicians' Union under Artist Managers, Finance, Law & Music Business, Music Publishing, Music Training & Careers, Record Labels

Copyright can seem bewildering, if not terrifying, at times; a darkened maze from which there is no escape. You may as well just have a sit down and stare at the floor. To save you from the neck ache, and a potential copyright headache to boot, we look at some copyright basics and how it can affect you.

What is copyright and what is it for?

Copyright exists to protect owners of intellectual property against other people copying or exploiting their work without permission. Intellectual property protected includes, amongst other things, musical works, lyrics and sound recordings.

How it might apply to you.

If we look at the breakdown of a commercial recording, like something you’d buy on iTunes, it helps to simplify when copyright applies to certain intellectual property. 

There are 3 main elements to be aware of;

(1) the underlying music and lyrics – copyright is owned by the author of the lyrics and the composer of the music;

(2) the sound recording itself – the copyright in the sound recording is owned by whoever produced the recording;

(3) the performances contained within the recording – any recording of your performance requires your consent and warrants payment. Subsequent exploitation of the recording, for example in a feature film or advert, warrants further payment.

Copyright is an automatic right. You don’t have to register your copyright by law but there is no copyright in an idea, so what you create must be recorded somehow, whether it’s written music and lyrics or an audio recording.

How we can help.

We can advise you on protecting your copyright. That includes answering any questions you have about it, as well as sample contracts for the use of your work in various media. We also have agreements, rates and contracts for the recording of your performances for, for example, albums, feature films or TV shows and festival coverage.

Our Copyright Registration Service can help you record your copyright and prove your ownership of your work.

And we work as a trade union to get your voice heard. Copyright law is always playing catch up to new ways of accessing content, and decisions made by governments can also undermine copyright and performers’ rights. The MU lobbies decision makers and defends these rights on a daily basis on behalf of all of our 30,000 members.

Understanding the basics can be enough to help you navigate your way out of the darkness. Yet copyright issues can shake even the most experienced musicians. If you have any questions about copyright, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your regional Musicians' Union office or tweet us @WeAreTheMU.  

Photo credit: Jonathan Stewart


musicians' union, the mu, copyright, copyright owners, rights owners, copyright registration service, music copyright


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