Copyright - A Brief Summary

The legal framework for UK Copyright law is the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, published editions of works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts, including broadcasts via wire or cable.
The law protects the ownership of the work of writers and composers and others to whom they have assigned their rights to such as manufacturers of sound recordings and broadcasting authorities. Copyright give’s the creator’s rights to control ways their material can be used.
In music there are two different types of copyright.
  • The first applies to the actual composition of the song, the lyrics and the actual music.
  • The second type of copyright is the copyright in an actual recording.
Copyright in a musical work is automatic in the UK from the moment the music is written. It lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the writer dies. Copyright on sound recordings lasts 50 years from the year of recording or 50 years from date of release if released in that time.
There is no official registration system for copyright; therefore, should any disputes arise regarding the ownership or originality of a song you will have to prove you are the copyright owner.
To help protect your copyright you can send yourself a copy of your material by recorded delivery, which gives a clear date stamp on the envelope. You should label the envelope with the name of the song so you can identify the work contained within it. Leaving the envelope unopened on its return could establish that the work existed at this time.
It is also advisable to put a note inside with details of where and when the material was recorded, names and addresses of writers and performers.
You can also deposit a copy of your work with a bank manager or solicitor (who will probably charge for this service) and obtain a receipt.
As the owner of a copyright, legally you have the performance rights – the right to publicly perform the song or for a recording of the song be played in public or broadcast (the performance rights). You also have the mechanical rights, the right to make copies of the song.
The owner also has moral rights such as the integrity right, the right for your song not to be treated derogatory i.e. your song to be used in an adult film etc. You also have the paternity right, the right to be credited as the owner.
The copyright in a sound recording is separate from the copyright in a song i.e. if an artist records a song and releases it then there are two copyright recordings. Copyright in the sound recording automatically belongs to the record company that allowed you to make the recording.
Performer’s rights are different from performance rights. Performer’s rights are owned by the people playing the instruments. Performers are entitled to a small royalty on public performances of a recording i.e. on the radio or in a shop. These rights cannot be signed away. 

For further information visit the copyright section of the Intellectual Property Office website