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How Can You Protect Your Works?

The procedures for copyright protection in the U.K. are far less straightforward as there is no official register that is approved by English law. There is no central copyright index, or forms to fill in. A composer secures copyright automatically as a direct result of his having created a new work. It must, however, be original. If you copy or adapt someone else's song without permission, in whole or part, you will not acquire any copyright of your own. Instead this would be seen as an infringement and the original copyright owner will be able to take legal action against you.

Without an official register it may be less costly to own your copyright but it also gives more opportunity to those that may want to use a song illegally. A situation can arise in which more people could claim that a song is owned by them and even attempt to use or adapt that song for their own purposes. I have had clients who have heard a song on the radio or in a record shop and have recognized either a riff or a part that is incredibly familiar. If they can prove that it was originally produced by them then they will have a potential case and will be able to take further action, no matter how small the part was. The problems begin though when you have to ask yourself whether it is a genuine composition that is simply exactly the same as another track or whether it is an actual direct infringement.

Due to the lack of a one-off register various methods of protection have evolved over the years as music has become more and more lucrative-Some of the more popular methods are shown below:
-Posting copies of your work to yourselves in a sealed registered envelope obtaining a stamped dated post office receipt, and keeping the unopened envelope and receipt in a safe place in case they are ever required for evidential purposes.
-Depositing a copy of your work with a lawyer, accountant or other reputable professional in return for a dated receipt.
These measures are helpful in recording that the work was in existence on a particular date, but they are not a guarantee of copyright ownership as they are always open to possible tampering or copying.

What Does Copyright Protection Provide?

If you are the owner of a copyright, e.g. in a song, then unless you have given permission for any of these specific activities, no one else can do any of the following with your song:
- copy it
- issue copies to the public
- perform or play it in public
- broadcast it or include it in a cable programme service
- make an adaptation of it.

How long does copyright last?

Musical works are protected by copyright until 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which the author died. After that, they fall into the public domain, which means that anyone can record or perform them without paying the original copyright owner. Copy in a sound recording generally expires 50 years from the end of the calendar year of first release, or in the case of an unreleased sound recording, 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made.


There is no doubt that understanding your copyright position will go a long way to helping you understand any music contracts that you might be offered. When being advised on a recording deal you will have a much clearer picture of why a record company or publishing house demand that you assign certain rights to them. This will allow you to be fully aware of your rights throughout the contract period and to know what those rights mean and how they are being used. You donít need to understand all aspects of a contract but I have found that giving artists some extra knowledge is likely to put off less genuine companies from offering you an unfair or unacceptable deal.

Elliot Chalmers © 2004 elliot@musiclawadvice.co.uk