Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Music Copyright. What a Songwriter Needs To Know

Music Copyright Protection - Tips for Songwriters

Wondering how to copyright protect the music you've written? You're not alone. One of the most popular musician articles on CleverJoe.com is part of a series written by Austin Smith, a Canadian songwriter who is doing it for real in Nashville, Tennessee. Yes, it is possible to make a living as a songwriter. Austin is an old friend of CleverJoe's, and Joe is happy to be able share his musician articles about songwriting, publishing and copyright protection. Dig in:

Copyright protecting your music

After my last column, entitled "Songwriting, Music Publishing, and Other Anomalies", I received lots of e-mails from folks with questions about various aspects of this business of songwriting. Since the questions that some of you posed were ones that anyone interested in pursuing a career in songwriting has at one time or another asked themselves, I thought it would be a good idea to address some of those questions in this column. Sound good?

All right, here we go...

Copyright protecting your music for use on the web

One e-mail I got was from a writer whose band was looking into putting samples of their songs on their own website. One of his bandmates was concerned about the possibility of someone ripping off their songs if they put them out over the Web like that, into infinity. He wanted to know if the band should 'copyright' the songs first, not put them on the Web at all, or what? Well, I gotta tell you. I think this is a great question and one a lot of people have pondered since the Internet became such an integral part of our culture. It can be a great promotional tool, but it has also opened up a brand new can of potential copyright infringement worms.

For more of Austin's musician articles for songwriters, see:




At 10.2.05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello there! I'm not sure how often you check your blog, but hopefully soon, because I have a question for you. I don't make my own music, and I am in High School still, and I was just wondering on how serious copyright laws are with music and songs. You see, we are doing this project at school, where we make up a product, and then make a commercial for it, and I was wondering if it was alright to use songs on the commercial? I mean, we aren't really promoting our product, we're not actually putting it on TV or selling anything, so is it still not ok to use other peoples' songs? (like switchfoot, hoobastank, beyonce, etc?) I'm really confused about this! Please help me out!

At 12.2.05, Blogger CleverJoe said...

Hello there anonymous. Well the answer to the question 'how serious are copyright laws' is: Darn serious. Yup, there's no getting around it, it's 100% the law. Copyright helps protect the songwriter who wrote the song in the first place, and everyone knows that for every Paul McCartney, there are a million and one songwriters out there trying to sell their songs. However, music and song copyright protection generally applies to commercial usage only. If you are using the music for personal use, then it's no problem to copy the song onto a CD, cassette, etc. As a matter of fact, in Canada you are already paying for the priviledge of copying music, because there is a so called "levy" that is built in to the price of every blank CD you buy. So, although CleverJoe is no lawyer and you shouldn't take his advice as such (c'mon, he's a cartoon character, albeit a clever one), you are probably safe to use some music for your school project, as long as it's not presented publicly or commercially. Break a leg! Cheerio.

At 14.3.05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you would be able to help me out with a question. I wrote some lyrics, and I am hopefully going to put music to it. I may eventually be preforming or recording this, dispite the fact that I am young and still in high school. In the poem/song, there is one line taken nearly exactly from a book. In the book, it says, 'I'm a broken child. A hollow girl'. In the song, there is one line that goes, 'A broken child, a hollow girl'. Would this be violating copyright in terms of the book, since it is only one line and not exact? If I gave credit for the one single line, do I still need to request permission? Do I even need to give credit? If you can tell me, it would be awesome, thanks.

At 7.4.05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a couple questions about copyrighting for you. 1) If I do put a cover song on my album, would it be possible to copyright my version? 2) I used an old cover song and wrote lyrics to it, the original music publisher likes my version and agrees to a 50/50 split of mechanical royalties, how would I copyright this song properly?

At 17.6.05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello: I want to know if a church choir has a piece of sheet music they are wanting to learn, can they legally copy this piece of sheet music of something out of a hymn book? We have not done this, but there are different opinions on whether or not we can do this. Please answer....Thanks, JP

At 17.6.05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last post was from me & should have read: this piece of sheet music OR (not of)out of a hymn book.

At 1.12.06, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there im not very familiar with copyright laws so i was wondering if could get your help.

my band recently wrote a song and we nicked a melody by a famous songstress. we changed hte words and its done in a way where its obvioulsly a tribute. also the style of music we play is very different then hers.

can we get sued for this?

At 19.11.07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! Hoping you can help me. I was part of a songwriting trio. We all own 1/3 of the publishing and 1/3 of the copyrights of 50 plus songs.

I am no longer a part of the trio. However, they recently released (they = the other 2) a 20 song album with 17 songs we wrote together. More importantly, they used the versions we recorded.

My understanding is that I am entitled to copyright funds as well as performance funds.

They have given me some song and dance that they will pay the performance funds quarterly. Don't they have to pay upfront? They have used my performance w/out my permission, nor did we agree to any payable amount.

So my questions are:
1. If 3 people own a song, do all 3 have to sign off on the IPR form when making recordings?
2. Can they release my performance without my permission?
3. Can they decide to pay me what I want or is there a scale I am unaware of for performance royalties?
4. Are performance royalties dependent on number of copies sold or number of copies produced and/or length of song?
5. Can I state the terms of getting paid or am I at their mercy for getting payments on performance royalties?
6. Where can I find the scale for copyright royalties?
7. Are copyright royalties dependent on number of copies sold or number of copies produced or length of song?

At 5.12.08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correction, in "Copyright protecting your music for use on the web" addressing the us copyright office, you CAN copyright all your songs on one CD, for the $30. Charge. You need to read the forms and know how to sign up, one entry form (copy right) can cover a whole CD which would include all the songs on that CD. So to copy right say 12-15 songs, just put them all on a cd, title it, name each track individually. This will only work if you A.) wrote all the songs by your self or b.) all the songs were wrote by the same people collectively.


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