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You wrote the songs, you rehearsed the songs and you may have recorded the songs, now you've got to protect that material, hence the globally recognized copyright. This symbol will ensure that no person will record or alter your material without your consent. The copyright will protect you when odd occurances like waking up one morning to hear your song on the radio after which the DJ comes on and says..."What a great new tune by XYZ"...the problem is that you haven't even recorded it yet, just live casual performances at the local coffee house. What would be your recoarse?Absolutely nothing, you have no proof that the song is yours. To avoid these situations the music industry and government created the copyright to protect you from such a situation. Read on....

The Copyright is essentially used to protect a songwriter and his material from unlawful use or reproduction. This protection is in the form of legally enforceable privileges granted by law. Those being the "exclusive rights" to make and sell your own material free from exploitation by others. The bearer of a copyright can make money by selling or licensing this right to anyone they may chose.
Anytime you write a song you should protect it, especially if you are going to be performing or recording said song. By law, 2 prerequisites must be met before a "musical work" can be copyrighted : The song must be original and 2) on paper, tape or any other hard-copy proof - lead sheet and lyrics. A lead sheet is a basic frame work of the song with the Chords and Melody.

The first step to copyrighting your material is to locate the necessary forms, in the US contact the Library Of Congress and in Canada contact your local musicians union to find out where they can be acquired.

To get your material properly copyrighted you will need to submit the necessary forms, a lead sheet. For non-published works, a cassette should be sent in with the words, basic melody and rhythm, it does not need to be a fully produced and arranged work.

The proper notice of claim in a song or sound recording is very important when protecting your notice. It tells people that the work has been registered and cannot be used or altered in any form without the express written consent of the author. The proper symbols to use with sheet music and written lyrics is , for sound recordings, CD's, cassettes and vinyl the circle containing the letter "p". (Unfortunately, I do not have this particular symbol at the moment). You may also use the word "Copyright" or "Copr." All notices should contain 1) the symbol 2) the year of publication 3) the name of the copyright owner.

(Example) 1999 Music Media Network
All Rights Reserved

For all unpublished demo material you should include the copyright symbol. Because it is a demo you don't legally need to include it but its better to add that extra amount of assurance. The best thing to do is to include the symbols on all songs, tapes and lead sheets. As mentioned above, this is an added element that can demonstrate that you understand the finer points of the music industry and your career but it also demonstrates that you take your music and all that is involved seriously.

The protection of a song or recording begins on the date of creation and lasts generally the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. Example: your song is copyrighted in 1997 and you live until 2037, your copyright will be protected until 2087.

There is a fee to copyright your material so I've included the standard "Poor man's copyright" which entails putting the necessary information in a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (S.A.S.E.) and mailing the pack to yourself. How does it protect your material? By going through the postal office, which is run by the government, it will be stamped with an official stamp that includes the date, month and year. When you receive your pack back do not open it. Keep it in a safe place until you can properly register your material.

As an independent artist one hurdle that you will come to is publishing. Publishing can seem like a completely foreign concept for new unsigned bands and artists but it doesn't have to be, if you made it through the above paragraph (Copyrights) then you'll breeze through this one. Publishing, in simple terms, deals with selling music via public performance which are Radio, Television, Movies, Concert Halls and Clubs.

The concept of publishing involves exploitation of your music to the several avenues mentioned above. Exploitation defined in the music industry is considered the process of making money from original compositions. Coupled with the above avenues of exploiting your music are selling your compositions to other bands and musicians who will record and exploit them; this will entitle you to mechanical royalties on every recording sold.

Anytime you make a song available (CD, album, cassette, software, sheet music) for public sale it is considered published. Once your song(s)/composition(s) are made available you also exercise your copyright(s). Any person or band that wants to use your song/composition is now required to give you notice and pay for that use.

During the early '50s and '60s many musicians who signed recording contracts gave up all rights to their publishing and settled for a flat rate payment per recorded song which could be anywhere from 50.00 to 500.00 and up. Lack of understanding the concept of publishing left many of these famous musicians and bands broke later on in life. The reason they ended up without any money is because they signed away their publishing. Publishing is where an artist generates the bulk of all monies made from a recording. Those publishing companies and persons that hold onto famous songs and continuously re-issue them in various forms, like compilations are collecting the money from CD/cassettes sold and radio airplay while the author of the song collects no money.

As an example, if I owned the publishing to the entire Beatles song catalog and manufactured CD/cassettes and albums; all monies generated from the exploitation of this catalog would go to me, not to any member of the Beatles. Michael Jackson bought the rights to a large section of the Beatles catalog because he knew that they will continue to make money for decades in re-issues, commercial use, radio airplay and sheet music. If any member of the Beatles wanted to release an old sold that Michael Jackson owned, they would have to pay him a percentage of all royalties earned. Bottom line is that you always want to retain a minimum of 50% of your publishing if not more with the exception that you are being offered an incredible deal. The most a professional publishing company usually requires is 50% if a company asks for a larger portion then you should look elsewhere or go the DiY Route.... the art of Self Publishing.

The major reason in forming your own publishing company is that any radio airplay will generate performance royalties. These royalties are payed to the composer and publisher, so having your own publishing company guarantees the composer (and you the publisher) all income to which they are entitled.

To establish a publishing company you'll have to create a company name. This name will be used on all official business and displayed on your record covers and label, lyric sheet inserts, and sheet music. The information informs others that you hold the rights as a composer and publisher and also makes it easy for others interested in your compositions to contact you. Once you've chosen a name you'll need to register and join either ASCAP, BMI or SOCAN. They are the organizations that collect and distribute your royalties.

Once you've done that you are ready to begin as a legal publishing company. Having your own company can also give you added leverage for any other publisher interested in acquiring your publishing/catalog and last but not least establishes a certain professionalism which only helps in your career.

Copyright infringement occurs when someone knowingly or unknowingly takes a portion or all of a published song and incorporates it into their own song claiming them as their own.

Many people use blank cassettes to record their favourite albums onto for use on walkman's, tape decks etc...this is actually a form of copyright infringement, though a blind eye is generally turned.
Varying copyright infringements are:

  • Illegal sampling (which will be discussed in the next paragraph)
  • Selling unauthorized tapes/CD's of another artist
  • Bootlegging - Recording live performances and selling them to the public
  • Taking an already existing song and using it in it's entirety on your own album (Compilation)
  • There are other but these are the main points. If you think that your composition is being illegally used contact an attorney.


    Sampling by definition is - the collection of any aural event in any format for further incorporation into a composition. Commonly being the digital acquisition of an aural event for manipulation before final use. There are many sources of sampling from libraries to albums to environmental sound.

    Sampling has become a hot issue within the music industry for years. More recently it has focused around hip-hop/rap (it shows up in many genres of music not just hip-hop and rap) utilizing older song clips and incorporating them into new songs. This is not a problem as long as you as the artist have received clearance from the copyright holder. If the author is not properly credited than that work can be considered as copyright infringement and is punishable by law, and quite expensive.

    The biggest question surrounding sampling has been what constitutes copyright infringement? Is it the entire song or a portion of it?
    This becomes the question of "Fair Use". Fair Use defined as: "reasonable unauthorized copying from a copyrighted work, when the copying does not substantially impair present or potential value of the original work, and in some way advances the public benefit".
    Generally the myth has been that sampling 4 bars of a song constitutes fair use. This is not the case, there are many memorable songs that can be recognized by the first 2 notes, not even the full 4-bars. For this reason is comes down to the notes involved. Taking a string of notes such as the A-D-E chord progression cannot be considered copyrighted, but using The Troggs, "Wild Thing" in it's entirety can be, due to all elements involved to create the song.
    To avoid copyright infringement, many musicians, producers and artists have taken portions of songs and electronically altered them with filters, EQ, FX and other equipment that is can be virtually undetectable to the ear and therefore a tough case to challenge in court.
    What is your best coarse of action if you want to release material that contains a copyrighted piece of material? If you are just using it for your own personal use and do not plan to release it to the public then you are generally safe. But if you plan to release it on CD,tape or vinyl then you need to be granted clearance from a clearance house. (Check with your government for more info) Copyright holders will received a percentage of all sales for the use of their material. The range is .005 to .03 per unit sold. Clearance costs escalate when more than one sample is used on a recording. The other option is to "Buy Out", where you pay a flat rate for use of the sample (ranging from 250 - 10,000) depending.

    Public domain songs are protected for 50 years from copyright. If they are not renewed at that time the become the property of the public and can be used in any medium and free from infringement. You are free to sample the entire the song, release the song or just about any other creative usage, and not be violating law.


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