Copyright law is a complex subject, one that’s getting way more convoluted in this digital era. But it’s important as a music creator to arm yourself with some basic knowledge to support your creative journey.
Whether you’re a DJ, musician, or content creator you should understand your rights and the rights of others. Why is it crucial? So we can all work towards a sustainable ecosystem of responsibly consuming content. In other words, a system where anyone that #GetsPlayedGetsPaid.
So here’s a rundown of 10 music copyright facts that you need to know:
1. Copyright law differs depending on the country you’re in
Copyright law is territorial, meaning that the most important law is the one in your country, however, the content you upload can also be subject to laws of other countries where the content is listened to. With that said, the Berne Convention is the most widely adopted copyright treaty (here’s a list of all the signatories) and sets out some common legal principles which those signatories follow. If you are based in the UK, the Patents Act 1988 is an entry point to copyright law.
2. For music copyright purposes, every song has two pieces of copyright
There is a separate copyright in the sound recording (aka the master) and the musical composition (aka musical work.) The latter refers to the musical composition and lyrics that form the song.
These elements could be written by one person or multiple co-writers, which is often the case for mainstream music. The master is the fixed recording i.e when you commit the musical composition in a tangible, replicable medium.
3. Published and unpublished musical works may be copyrighted
In most countries, copyright protection is established once a piece of music is created, documented, or recorded. In other words, it doesn't need to be published to be protected, however, the duration of that protection depends on when it was published.
4. Copyright protection can last longer than you think
This depends on the country. Generally in the US and UK, for musical compositions, copyright protection extends for 70 years beyond the life of the owner. For sound recordings, copyright protection extends for 70 years from the date of publication (which is usually the date of commercial release).
If a sound recording is unreleased, the duration of copyright can be limited to 50 years from the date of creation. Finally, copyright is a property right that can be transferred or inherited, but laws vary on whether you can rent or lend copyright.
5. Copyright law establishes various rights for the owner
If you are the owner of a piece of music, you have various rights. However, these rights vary subtly based on your territory. In the UK & the US as the copyright owner, you have the exclusive right to:
- To reproduce the piece.
- To adapt or arrange the piece.
- To publicly perform the piece or communicate it to the public (e.g through a live stream).
- To display, distribute, and/or sell copies of the pieces.
- To license others to do any of the things listed above.
6. You can only plead ‘fair use’ in very specific circumstances
Fair use is a legal framework that allows certain exemptions to use a copyrighted work without requiring permission from the owner. Examples of fair use under US and UK copyright law are for parody, commentary, or criticism. Think of fair use as the act of using copyrighted material for a limited and “transformative” reason. But remember, these exemptions are very narrowly applied and typically only allowed for non-commercial use.
One of the biggest urban myths of the internet is that by saying "not my copyright" or "promotional use only" that that somehow counts as fair use and absolves said content of the requirement to obtain permission from the relevant copyright holder.
7. Live performances follow a different set of rules
A live performance is a public performance (i.e performed in a public domain outside a circle of family and friends.) And a live stream is included in that definition. So, if you perform using copyrighted material (like a song or a film) that will need to be cleared with the copyright owners. But typically it is the venue or festival’s responsibility to clear these kinds of licenses.
When it comes to the digital space, Mixcloud is the only platform that has the licenses in place so creators can perform worry-free with takedowns or liability for copyright infringement.
8. Depending on how you would like to use copyrighted material, you’ll need a different kind of license
Licenses are essentially permission slips from the copyright owner to use their intellectual property. The license would list all the ways one can use the copyright, often known as a grant of rights.
You'll need a license to:
- Publicly perform a sound recording.
- Record a cover version of a musical composition.
- To synchronize a composition and/or sound recording to a video and make it available on-demand.
There are systems in place so that licensees don't need to reach out to individual copyright owners directly. For example, for a DJ to publicly perform a sound recording in a nightclub in London, the venue will have a license with PPL (an organization that licenses the public performance of sound recordings to venues in the UK). To publicly perform a sound recording in a DJ mix on Mixcloud, Mixcloud (just like the nightclub) has those necessary rights so you can play your set worry-free.
Similarly, if you’d like to record a cover version of a song, permission can also be obtained via bodies such as MCPS which represent and license the rights of songwriters.
Now the last point above is an important one to note. For one, it's the most commonly violated online and is the reason why Mixcloud does not host archived videos of live streams. For more information on this, read our article explaining why we don’t offer VOD’s.
9. Copyright extends to protect derivative musical works i.e remixes
Yes, remixes are new compositions and new sound recordings which can be protected in themselves. But they rely on pre-existing copyrighted material—this is why they fall under the umbrella of derivative works. So technically, any unofficial remix or bootleg of an original work is considered a copyright infringement.
But don’t fret! We recommend using Beatsource’s legally licensed remix library.
10. Mixcloud is the right choice for music creators, as the only platform with a sustainable model for all
Mixcloud is the most licensed live-streaming platform. It's designed for music creators and it's founded on one goal: to create a sustainable ecosystem for all music creators.
We do this by not only having strong licensing deals, but also by arming you with the tools and the knowledge to take charge of your career.
Check out more musical deep dives on Campus.