Copyright applies to any medium that must not be reproduced without the relevant permission.

Copyright does not protect ‘ideas’ for a work, it’s only when the work itself is fixed in a tangible form, for example when written or an audio recording, even an image or artwork, that copyright automatically protects it, so it is essential within the music business to ensure the creators and owners are properly protected and remunerated for the use or sale of their creative works.

The basic rights of copyright are:

  • the right to copy the work
  • the right to issue copies of it to the public
  • the right to rent or lend copies to the public
  • the right to perform, show or play the work in public
  • the right to communicate the work to the public
  • the right to make an adaptation of the work
  • the right to do any of the above in relation to that adaptation.

Anyone performing these acts without the permission of the copyright owner is in breach of copyright.


In the UK, the term of copyright for a sound recording is 50 years, although there are ongoing legislative proposals to extend this period to 70 years to bring it more in line with copyright terms around the world. The copyright inherent in the recordings gives legal protection to the producers and owners of those recordings against any infringement (the most obvious being illegal file-sharing but this can also include unauthorised sampling).

A copyright protected work can have more than one copyright, or another intellectual property (IP) right, connected to it. For example, an music album can have separate copyrights for individual songs, sound recordings, artwork, and so on.

There is an important difference between the copyright in a song, which would be the music and the lyrics, and copyright in the sound recording of that song. These are two different copyrights. Copyright in a song is created automatically the moment it is written but remember, it’s most important to realise …it’s proving your copyright that matters.

Frequently artists will assign or licence their copyright in a song(s) to a publishing company, who will be more able to administer and enforce their rights.

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the “author” of a sound recording is the producer, but it is generally accepted that the copyright owner will be the person who made the arrangements for the recording to be made – typically a record company.