Expert Answers to the 5 Most Frequently Asked Music Copyright Questions

Christopher Sabec Copyright Law

Any musician who is looking to make it in the industry will need to know the basics about copyright law. Your ignorance can leave you unprotected to thieves and pirates looking to take the credit for your hard work. Don’t let that happen — read these FAQ answers from industry expert Christopher Sabec to build a strong foundational knowledge that can defend you against copyright infringement and potential legal issues.

Here are answers to the 5 most common copyright questions that every musician needs to know:

What is a copyright? A copyright is the legal right that protects your original work. It’s what stops other people from claiming your song or video as their own and its what gives you the unique right to sell, distribute, and perform the work. With a copyright, you have the right to adapt and rearrange your music, the ability to reproduce it, and the legal right to license others to do all of the above and more.

When does it start? Technically, copyright protection starts as soon as you begin creating. The US Copyright Office explains that creation occurs when music and/or lyrics are “fixed in a tangible form.” Although this is purposefully vague, it can be invoked if lyrics are down on paper, instrumental portions are recorded, or if you have begun music creation on a digital audio workstation.

Do I need to register? The bottom line is you don’t need to register with the US Copyright Office to get copyright protection but you do if you ever want to enforce your rights legally. If you suffer from copyright infringement, you will need to have a registered copyright in order to sue and claim damages in court.

How long does it last? Unlike patents, which only last 14-20 years, a copyright will protect your work for your entire life, plus an additional 70 years. If you’ve worked on the music, video, etc. with other people, the copyright will typically extend to 70 years beyond the death of the last living author. At that point, it will enter the “public domain,” the set of works whose legal protection rights have expired, including those of Shakespeare and Beethoven, among others.

What is “fair use?” Fair use refers to the legal privilege which allows people to use your copyrighted work without permission in some special cases. The purpose of the law is to encourage innovation through remixes, critiques, and comments. It’s not a magical phrase you can use to steal someone else’s work, but it can be invoked for things like educational purposes.

To learn more about this critical topic, read the rest of Christopher Sabec’s Copyright Law blog and stay tuned for future updates.