A Guide To Copyright: How To Protect Your Music

If you want to protect your music, you'll need to understand a bit about it the different kinds of music copyright laws. Here's what you need to know.
13 January 2022

By: Vanessa B

Firstly, what is music copyright, exactly? Copyright exists to protect the creators of music from having their work used by another individual or entity without their permission; it protects these rights by law and, should copyright be breached, the wronged parties can sue to prevent further breaches and possibly for a compensation payment from the offender(s).

Copyrighted music can be legally used if a license or permit is granted, and this is usually obtained for a fee.

How Do I Know If a Song Is Copyrighted?

If you want to use a piece of music, then you may be wondering how to know if a song is copyrighted. Well, it’s important to be aware that virtually all music is copyrighted; although if you plan on using music in a video, or you have made it for your own personal use and have no intention of attempting to monetize it, then there is no need to obtain a license. 

There are some other exceptions where music is not subject to copyright laws – like these:

Music in the Public Domain

This music is free to use by anyone, without the need to be granted permission. Copyright law was first established in 1710 in the UK; any music created before this time is not subject to copyright.

If the creator of the music died more than fifty to seventy years ago, then permission does not need to be sought to use this either, although this varies from country to country. Similarly, music that was created before 1978 where the authors have not renewed their copyright is also exempt. You can find more details on how to check this by accessing the information provided by the US Copyright Office or via the Public Domain Information Project.

Creative Commons Licenses

Work that has a Creative Commons License is free to use, although there are restrictions and requirements that need to be adhered to in order to do so. There are six different types of Creative Commons Licenses, so check the details carefully before using any music that is covered by one of these exemptions.

Royalty-Free Music 

Obtaining a license from a royalty-free platform – and paying the necessary fee – allows you to use licensed, royalty-free music; it’s really important, however, to read the small print on the platform before signing up, as not all of the licenses have the same requirements. This option is widely viewed as being preferable to using music in the public domain or that covered by a creative commons license, as users tend to have access to a wider variety of music, and the sound quality is generally much better.

Is My Music Eligible To Be Copyrighted?

Your music can be copyrighted if it has been recorded and/or written in musical notation. The song also must be entirely original and not infringe upon any other existing work. In the UK, the Copyright Acts 1911 and 1956 protect musical work, as does the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988.

How Do I Copyright My Music?

To copyright your work, write your musical creation down on paper or record it in audible form. To register the date of the song’s creation, you may want to email yourself a copy or to send yourself a hard copy of the music through registered mail, leaving the envelope unopened once it arrives.

Alternatively to this – or in addition to it – you could register your song online. This involves uploading the music, entering your personal details, and paying the attendant fee.

What If Someone Infringes On My Copyright?

If an individual or entity uses your work without first gaining your permission, then, depending on the circumstances and your preference, you may wish to seek to resolve the case with the other party outside of court, possibly with the help of a mediation service.

Should you decide to take the offending party to court immediately, or in the case that mediation fails, then, if the court finds in your favor, an injunction may be put in place to prevent further infringement, and the copyright owner could be awarded damages. If the infringement has occurred on a commercial scale, then this could constitute a criminal case, and the court will treat it as such.

Licensing Or Selling Your Copyrighted Material

If you wish to license your music to another person or company to use, then it’s a good idea to enter into a contractual agreement so that the terms of the usage can be clearly stipulated and the length of the term agreed; this protects both parties. Should you decide to sell or transfer your copyright, then this would require a contract to be drawn up – this type of contract is known as an assignment. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that even if you sell or transfer your copyright, as the author of a work, you may still retain moral rights to the music, and further legal advice should be sought on this matter if you are unsure. Further, if you wish to instruct others to help market your copyright, advice should be sought on the legal ramifications of this process.