How many copyrights exist within a song?
It is a common misunderstanding that a song has only one copyright. There are at least 2 copyrights in every recording.
The two copyrights are:
1. the MUSICAL WORK copyright
2. the SOUND RECORDING copyright
For simplicity, I’ll use the ℗ and © symbols to help explain the difference. You’ve probably seen those on CD inserts or song credits. If you’ve ever purchased physical CDs or vinyls (LPs), it is written in fine print. If you only buy or stream mp3s you may not have a clue what those symbols are, but please stay with me. My goal for the post is to explain and hopefully help you understand the importance.
The ℗ is the SOUND RECORDING copyright symbol. The “P” actually stands for “Phonogram”.
The © is the MUSICAL WORK copyright symbol. The “C” stands for “Copyright”.
I have heard Trademarks (™) being mentioned in some music copyright conversations. This is not one of the copyrights within a song. It is only relevant when discussing unique names, phrases, logos, and identity related copyrights.
A ™ is usually used in connection with an unregistered mark, to inform potential infringers that a term, slogan, logo or other indicator is being claimed as a trademark. Use of the ™ symbol does not guarantee that the owner’s mark will be protected under trademark laws.
The registered trademark symbol ® is a symbol that provides notice that the preceding word or symbol is a trademark or service mark that has been registered with a national trademark office. A trademark is a symbol, word, or words legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product.
What is a SOUND RECORDING? ℗
For simplicity, think of the sound recording as the recorded version of a song/composition/musical work.
Once a song is written or composed, it can be recorded multiple times by different performers. Each recording is a different sound recording and contains a different ℗ copyright.
The sound recording is sometimes referred to as a MASTER or MASTER RECORDING. A master recording is the first recording of a song, from which all the later copies are made.
Make sense? I’ll explain shortly using a practical example. Please stay with me.
What is a MUSICAL WORK? ©
A musical work is the composition of a song (the actual melodies and harmonies), the arrangement of the instruments (what parts the guitar plays, etc.) and the lyrics, whereas the sound recording is an actual recording of the musical work. Get it?
Here’s what you need to remember:
The creator(s) of a musical work owns the © copyright. This is the musician(s) who composes the music and writes the lyrics.
The © copyright belongs to the Songwriter and/or Composer.
The creator(s) of a sound recording owns the ℗ copyright. This is the performer who records the music (or possibly the record label who pay for the recording). I will explain this further when I break down record labels.
Just know for now that the ℗ copyright belongs to the Performer and/or Record label.
Here’s a practical example:
John Lennon & Paul McCartney wrote a song titled Yesterday in 1965. (Songwriters).
They were signed to Capitol Records at the time. (Record Label)
The song was produced by George martin (Composer/Producer),
and performed by The Beatles (Performing Artist/Band).
Here’s whats important:
Unless otherwise stated in an agreement, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Martin own the © copyright for the song Yesterday. They are the Songwriters and Composers.
Unless otherwise stated in an agreement, The Beatles and Capitol Records own the ℗ copyright.
John and Paul are part of the The Beatles, therefore they own a portion of the © copyright and a portion of the ℗ copyright as well.
Unless otherwise stated in an agreement, the other members of the band (Ringo Starr and George Harrison) only have claims on the ℗ copyright. They did not write, nor compose, they are only performers.
George Martin (the producer) only has claims on the © copyright.
The record deal that The Beatles signed with Capitol Records at the time is what determines the ℗ copyright royalty split between Capitol Records and The Beatles for the song.
The publishing split sheet between Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Martin is what determines the © copyright royalty split between them.
A publishing split sheet (often simply referred to as a split sheet) is a document that states who wrote what percentage of the song(s) recorded by a band or artist.
VERY IMPORTANT: A split sheet should be created for each and every song you write, before ever shopping it to a third party to be published commercially.
There is no easier way to avoid future disputes than to have the publishing split sheet signed before a song is published. I will explain and show samples of a publishing split sheet later.
Here’s another example that further explains the relevance of © copyrights and ℗ copyrights:
In 1995, the R&B group Boys II men recorded a new version of the 1965 song Yesterday. At the time Boys II men was signed to Motown Records. Boys II men did not write nor compose Yesterday, they only re-recorded their own version, same lyrics, same melody. This is considered a Cover.
Stay with me..
Now, because part or all of the original lyrics and melody have been used in this new Boys II men version, the original © copyright from 1965 is still at play. Remember, you can not use a creator’s work without his consent.
Therefore, Paul McCartney, John Lennon or whoever currently controls the © copyrights for the song Yesterday must give Motown Records and Boys II men permission to publish the new version.
This rule also applies even if only a little portion of the lyrics or composition of the original song Yesterday was included in the new version.
However, If you sample someone’s previously released music by using a portion of the lyrics and the sound recording as well, you will need permission from both the © copyright owner AND the ℗ copyrights owner. A lot of hip hop samples require this type of clearance because portions of the sound recording may be “chopped up” as elements in the new recording.
If you re-play or use an existing melody from a previously released song, you are likely infringing on the copyrights of the creator of the original melody. There is nothing wrong with doing this if you intend to get the necessary permission for such use.
You can record a cover of any previously released song but if you intend to exploit it in any way, you need to get permission.
Even live bands need permission to publicly perform your original music. We’ll discuss this in detail in the next post.
Here’s whats important for now:
In the case of Boys II men’s version of Yesterday, Paul McCartney and John Lennon (or whoever currently owns the © copyright of the 1965 version) will earn © copyright royalties from the new Boys II men version.
Capitol Records will not earn ℗ copyright royalties from the Boys II men version.
The newly created ℗ copyrights belong to Motown Records and Boys II men.
Hopefully, as you better understand copyrights, you see and understand why it is important to clearly document ownership percentages and splits.
Owning the © copyright or ℗ copyrights means you or your representative has to authorize anybody who wants to use your work in whole or as a part of another project, otherwise you can take legal action against them.
Long story short:
Songwriters and Composers are the original rights owners of lyrics and melody, the © copyrights.
A Record label owns and can only exploit its recorded version, its own SOUND RECORDING, aka the ℗ copyright. It is sometimes called the “Master”.
IMPORTANT: Some songwriters or composers may choose to give a portion or all of their © copyrights to the record label they are signed to as well. It all depends on what you sign with your record label. If you have signed a record deal without understanding this very vital piece of information, please go have a quick look at your contract to be sure you have not signed your life’s work away by accident.
In some cases, Music publishers co-own or acquire © copyrights from songwriters and composers. We’ll discuss music publishing and the different types of music publishing deals later.
I hope you never forget this:
© copyright protects your musical work (lyrics and melody)
℗ copyright protects the Sound recording of the musical work.
Music publishing will be discussed in a later post, but it suffices to say here that, for every recorded song, there can be multiple copyright interests at stake.
Ok, this was a bit long I know. There was a lot of repetition as well, I apologize. I did that in an attempt to drive home the points and hopefully help you remember how this stuff works.
In the next post,… I will explain the 6 different copyright authorizations that can be issued to third parties who wish to use your music. They include Distribution, Reproduction, Public Performance, Digital transmissions, Derivatives, and Public display.
These rights allow you to choose who can distribute, reproduce, play in public, play on radio, show it on tv, sell ringtones, etc.
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.
My name is Lanre eLDee Dabiri, I am NOT a writer, I’m just excited to share 🙂