How Can You Protect Your Songs?
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 recognised 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 it's ever required for proof.
-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.
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 don’t 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.
Recently I have found that many of my clients are coming to me with a new breed of contract offer usually received from outside the U.K.
Having analysed them I have decided to now refer to such deals as Spam contracts.
The reasons for this are as follows:
Firstly, they are usually titled Non-Exclusive Song Placement Agreements.
The main terms are often brief and place no or little obligations on the company to do anything with the music. This is not good and immediately implies that they are simply trying to boost their catalogues and roster of songs to attract investment for example.
Secondly such agreements are mainly offered via a band’s social network profiles.
A Band will more than likely receive an email stating that the company has listened to their music and really like what they heard. The email will usually be accompanied by a contract offer there and then.
Thirdly and most importantly the non-exclusive element can be used as a smokescreen to induce the band to sign without getting legal advice. Just because the heading states non-exclusive does NOT mean it is. For example, I have seen such deals that assign an exclusive publishing share if a song is placed!
So, what to do if you receive such a deal?
Well despite what I have said above do not ignore it! Check out the Company and find out what you can about them. Then reply to them asking for more info and a brief rundown of what they think they can do for you. Most importantly though. Don’t sign the agreement!
If you get a response that is positive, then it will be worth getting the agreement looked at by myself or someone equally as qualified.
You may find that despite the spam element there is worth in the offer but only after you have received proper advice.