How to copyright a song

Did you know that, as long as it is recorded or written down, copyright exists from the very moment you create a unique song, lyrical work or piece of music? As owner of copyright to your song you have the legal right to decide how and when it should be played.

You do not need to register a musical work in order to secure UK copyright protection, providing it satisfies the eligibility criteria outlined below.

Eligible music for copyright protection

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 deems a music work eligible for copyright protection if:

  • It is written in music notation or recorded on tape or fixed in another form.

  • It is original and hasn’t been copied from any other pre-existing musical work.

  • The writer is either a British Citizen or is domiciled or resident within the UK, or the work is first published in the UK or a country that’s signed up to the Berne Convention.

In order to avoid the threat of a copyright dispute or being infringed upon it’s highly recommended that you consider the following song copyright measures to preserve evidence of the fact that your work was in existence from a specified date.

UK copyright law for songs

In the UK, copyright for songs is covered by two Copyright Acts in 1911 and 1956 – as well as the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Additionally, international decisions such as the aforementioned Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention mean that your song is largely protected in almost every other country in the world.

How to protect your song from copyright infringement

  • Write down a copy of your musical work on paper or store it as an audio recording. Place it within an envelope that’s signed with your name across the seal of the envelope. Post it to yourself by registered post – the time stamp from the post will be vital in the event of copyright dispute. It’s equally important that you DO NOT open the envelope on receipt but store it in a safe place until such time that you need it as part of any legal proceedings.

  • Or you can also deliver a copy of the musical work on paper or as an audio recording with your bank or solicitor, who will provide you with a dated receipt. (Bear in mind however that they will charge an annual holding fee). This should be stored away in a safe place with your own personal copy of the song.

  • As an additional form of protection for works protected by copyright, moral rights are given to the composer or author of the work. These cannot be transferred to anyone else, but the composer/author has the power to waive these rights altogether.

How long does song copyright last?

In the UK, a song is copyrighted for up to 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the composer or author of the music dies. If the music was created outside the European Economic Area, the copyright exists for the period specified by the copyright rules in its country of origin, provided that this does not exceed 70 years.

Whatever your line of work may be, it’s vital that you understand how to use copyrighted material fairly. The consequences of a copyright infringement can be costly. If you want a clearer understanding of how issues surrounding copyright can impact on starting and running a business, make sure you sign up to our 'How does Copyright affect my business' workshopVisit our events page to view our upcoming events.

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