First of all, Introduction…
Hi guys, my goal here is to explain music copyrights, publishing and licensing in as simple terms as possible. In my experience, the average African artist (and most artists outside the continent for that matter) don’t have much of a clue when it comes to this topic and it is becoming very important to have a good understanding of these aspects of your music and career as we move into an era where digital distribution, streaming and licensing could end up being your main sources of income.
Today, most popular African artists earn their biggest cheques from touring and endorsements but this is only the case for the top tier artists. As music becomes easier to access globally, there are new opportunities for the mid-level and less popular acts. A genuine opportunity to earn a living off your music even if you’re not nearly one of the most popular artists on the scene. So long as there is an audience out there for your music, whatever genre or style you choose to perform, there is an opportunity for you to connect directly with your fans, and sell your music, wherever they may be on the planet.
Bottom line is that you now have access to likely fans of your music globally, and with less effort than has been historically possible. These posts are general education on a crucial topic for anyone who is serious about getting paid for their musical works.
Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets dive into part 1, what is copyright?
What is Copyright?
COPYRIGHTS give music creators material rights to control ways their songs can be used. As a creator, copyrights are automatically yours as soon as the material is recorded, in writing or other digital ways.
Say you come up with an ORIGINAL song idea, once the song is in a tangible format, you AUTOMATICALLY have legal copyrights. You could be in the shower and get inspired with some original melodies. Once you write it down or record it on a phone, you own the copyright by law. The idea is that once the melodies leave your head and are recorded into a tangible medium, you own the copyrights. You don’t have to register it with a copyright agency before you own it. Registration with your country’s copyright agency (which is highly recommended) is a way to ensure your time-stamp exists with copyright authorities, incase of ownership disputes in the future.
What does ‘Tangible format’ mean?
Tangible format means that it is written on paper, recorded on a tape, CD, mp3, or other formats that can allow you to give it to someone else.
Important: If you do not have the work in tangible format, you can not prove that you are the original creator, therefore, give yasef brain and record it into a tangible format. I hope that makes sense so far?
Tangible formats of your work also help to time-stamp the work. This will be useful to you if you need proof in the future, of when you created it.
General rule: save the date of creation in a visible format. Digital copies like wav, mp3 files etc usually have this embedded within the metadata. If you record on a CD, write the date with a permanent marker. It may come in handy in the future.
VERY important: For you to own the copyrights, the work must be ORIGINAL. Original in the sense that it has not been copied or adapted from another existing piece of musical work.
If you use previously known melody or lyrics in your work, you can’t claim full ownership of copyrights on such work. If you borrow from existing music, the original writer/composer owns part of the copyrights of your new creation, and you must get permission from such owners in order to be able to commercially use or sell it.
Remember, for you to own copyrights, the work must be recorded in writing or other tangible formats (on a CD, tape, mp3 or other digital formats).
What do copyrights do for you as a music creator?
The general idea is that copyrights give you control over how people can interact with or use your creation/work.
Your control of the copyrights of your works is what enables you to exploit your creation. In simpler English, your control over your copyrights is what allows you to make money from it.
Copyright laws prohibit all others from the use of a song without the express authorization of the creator or copyright owner.
Copyrights can only be transferred from the creator to someone else on a document that is signed by both parties. The signature can be on paper or done digitally.
Any use of a musical creation in which copyrights exist without the express authorization of the owner is considered an infringement.
What is copyright infringement?
Infringement is when you use someone’s creation without having express permission to do so. Wikipedia describes copyright infringement as the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works.
In simpler English, the owner of a piece of music has the right to decide who can reproduce or make copies, who can share copies, who can sell copies, who can play the song, who can perform the song, who can remake other versions of the song, and who can use the song in anyway shape or form. As a creator of music, your creations belong to you to do with as you please.
Copyright law prohibits anyone from using your creation without your permission. This is very important because your ability to control how people use it is what gives you the right to earn money from any such use.
How do I give other people the rights to use my music?
When you sign a record deal, you are basically giving the record label authorization to sell the songs that you intend to create during your contract term.
When you sign with a VAS (value added service) company to sell your ringtones and ring back tunes, you are giving them authorization to do so.
When you sign with a collecting society, you are giving them authorization to collect royalties on your behalf.
When you sign with a music publisher, you are giving them authorization to exploit the copyrights within your music.
When you sign with a digital distributor like Tunecore or Freeme Digital, you are giving them permission to distribute your music to various platforms for sale. Platforms like iTunes, Spotify, Vevo etc.
When you sign a music licensing agreement, you are granting specific rights to use your music. It can be for use in a movie, video game, tv show, movie trailer, or similar usage.
You can also give authorization to a person or company, which allows them to give authorizations to others on your behalf.
Don’t worry, I will explain Record deals, VAS deals, Collecting societies, Music publishing, Digital distribution, Music licensing and much more in later posts.
In my next post, I’ll be discussing the difference between the two copyrights that exist within a musical work, the difference between a Songwriter, a Composer and a Performer, and what copyrights mean to each of them.
If anything is confusing so far, please feel free to ask me questions in the comments section. I’ll do my best to answer all. I want to answer your questions in the comments section for the benefit of those who will come across these posts and have similar questions in the future.