The Copyright Law of 1976

Copyright Law, and more specifically the Copyright Act of 1976, is a law that every copyright lawyer, artist and artist manager should know and understand. It is a very important piece of legislation that influences how those in the music industry do business. It is the law that dictates how work can be disseminated and used.

For our purposes, we should understand that this act deals with both the duration of copyright and the fair use thereof. It is long and complex but serves as the foundation with which artists and creatives can protect their work. It is important that it is well understood and thoroughly read.

Instead of diving into its intricacies, examining cases where its use comes into play can allow for a better understanding.


Phil McCartney


According to, former Beatles member Paul McCartney is attempting to regain rights to music he wrote with John Lennon and the rest of his band. During his friendship with McCartney, pop star Michael Jackson and his estate purchased a large portion of these rights in 1985 and Lennon fortunately, was unable to do so. However, McCartney will soon be able to retain these. This catalog of music is coming up for revision in 2018 according to stipulations set forth in the Copyright Act. In regards to the Act, Billboard’s website states this:

“The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 gave songwriters the ability to recapture the publishers’ share of their songs, and in the case of titles written before 1978, writers can recapture songs after two consecutive 28-year terms, or 56 years. (That legislation allows for writers of songs issued in or after 1978 to recapture their publishing after 35 years.)…The Lennon-McCartney catalog begins hitting the 56-year mark in 2018.”

The Copyright Act protects artists rights and gives opportunity for reversion and purchase. In situations like McCartney’s, it is fortunate that it exists.


Fair Use & The Dancing Baby:


Copyright law can create even muddier waters now that we are in the digital age. Media platforms like Youtube deal with copyright complaints all of the time. Many of these arise from the Copyright Act as well as one of its first amendments, the DCM (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its effect on Fair Use. The viral video “Let’s Go Crazy” in 2007 is a perfect example.

The dancing baby in this video has “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince playing in the background. Because of its popularity, the ensuing debate that rose over this was about whether or not too much of the copyrighted material was utilized, whether or not the uploader of the video should be compensated for the work and whether or not Prince needed to be credited.


Rae Votta of the Daily Dot says this:

Fair use allows for limited use of copyrighted material without permission for specific circumstances, as dictated by a four-part test. In the case of pop culture commentary on YouTube channels, their work often falls under either parody or criticism, akin to when a journalist quotes sections of a work in order to critique or explain it. However, on a medium like YouTube, each view of that work, with the small bit of copyrighted material included, earns the uploader money for the display of that material. If too much of the copyrighted material is included in the video, YouTube diverts monetization to the original copyright holder.

However, there’s no clear definition of how much is too much, and that confusion can often result in crossed wires on how to proceed for content creators.



As you can see, Copyright law and the Copyright Act of 1976 plays a tremendous part in the distribution, dissemination and fair use of copyrighted work. Solutions to cases like the ones outlined here hinge on its correct interpretation.

The Act is not going anywhere anytime soon and with all of the digital advancements that are happening in music and protected work, it is going to be important that the act is well understood and maybe even expanded. The fair use, sharing, copyright law and distribution of of protected works depends upon it.