Two Copyrights in Music

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Music law is intentionally confusing, However, at its core, music can be broken down into two basic copyrights and the enforcement of the rights that go along with them. A copyright provides its creator with exclusive rights to a particular work for a limited amount of time. The two primary copyrights in music are, the sound recording (SR) copyright and the performing art (PA) copyright. For music to be copyrightable, it must be original and fixed in a tangible form, such as a sound recording recorded in .wav format or sheet music printed on paper. 

It’s important for songwriters and recording artists to understand how their copyrights can generate revenue within the music industry. For each piece of released music, two copyrights exist. The PA and SR. The PA copyright consists of two elements: the lyrics (words) and the melody (beat). If you are involved in the creation of either the lyrics or the melody, you are considered a songwriter for that composition. When the two elements of the composition are recorded, a sound recording (SR) copyright is created. The SR copyright is typically called the master. The master is the physical embodiment of the composition. 


For example: Calvin Harris wrote the lyrics and created the melody for the single “We Found Love” featuring Rihanna. So Calvin Harris is the copyright owner of the composition. Rihanna recorded a version Calvin’s composition, so Rihanna is the owner of that particular sound recording. Note: The music industry is an industry that also consists of negotiations and contracts. In most situations, contracts will determine final percentage of ownership of both copyrights.

With the creation of each copyright, the owner retains six exclusive rights. The owner has the right to: 1. reproduce the work, (i.e., mechanical reproduction of the music for CDs, downloads, streams and vinyl); 2. distribute the work (i.e., stream or otherwise make the music publicly available); 3. prepare derivative works; 4. publicly perform the work (i.e., in a concert or on the radio); 5. publicly display the work, and 6. perform sound recordings publicly through digital audio transmission. With the exploitation of each right, the copyright owner should receive compensation. 

Traditionally, record labels (i.e. Interscope Records, Atlantic Records) deal in the acquisition of rights to master recordings, either past works or future uncreated works. Music publishing companies (i.e. Kobalt, APG) deal in acquisition of rights to compositions. Although that’s the “Industry Standard”, any company or individual can acquire ownership to your copyrights if you contractually sign them away. Always cautiously review any agreement dealing with the exploitation, licensing and ownership of your copyright interests. And make sure to consult an informed attorney before signing any deal. 

Olivia ShanksComment