The music business, so therefore your business is primarily based on the acquisition, use, and sale of copyrights and the recordings of those songs. To insure that you understand this and to prevent you from giving away your rights naively, it is important you understand at least the basics of copyright law and how it relates to the music industry.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney or claim to be an expert on copyright law. My intent here is to help share information I have attained over the years on this topic. You should always seek the advice of a qualified copyright attorney before signing any kind of contract relating to your intellectual creations.
Definition - Copyright is a legal right that has been established by federal law, giving an author control over their intellectual creations, weather it be to protect and maintain ownership or to transfer those rights to third parties. (like record labels)
In the music business an "author" can be the songwriter or an artist that records the song. The law protects the songwriter as soon as a song is written down or recorded. The same is true for the recording artist, as soon as the performance is recorded.
Copyrights for written songs are separate from copyrights of recordings of those songs. Usually publishing companies will acquire copyrights to written songs through a publishing agreement, and record companies (labels) acquire copyrights to the recordings of those songs through an recording agreement.
Lets look at an example from one of our artist (Jay.Keyz) that just recorded a cover song on our label Afflatus Entertainment Group
For his upcomming album "Lovers Race" Jay.Keyz did a song called "Nothing But Love" originally performed by Peter Tosh written by Freddie Harris and Ella Mitchell for the Wanted Dread or Alive album,. As the authors Harris and Mitchell were the copyright owners of the song. They transferred their rights to Bug Music their publishers. When Jay.Keyz recorded this song his label Afflatus needed to obtain a license from Bug Music. This type of license is called a mechanical license. (I'll get into that in another blog)
Now because we have Jay.Keyz signed, we own the rights to his "sound recording" version of the song and pay him a royalty, every copy we produce physical or digital we owe Bug Music a royalty because as publishers they own the rights to the written song. In turn they will pay a royalty to Harris and Mitchell.
What about Peter Tosh? We don't pay him because as the performer he or his label owns the "sound recording" of the song not the written song. We just recorded the written song. Peter Tosh can get paid if someone uses his "sound recording" of the song in a commercial, movie or t.v show. That is called licensing or sync licensing where your music is synchronized along with visuals, but that's a whole other game I'll also cover licensing in the future. Jay.Keyz can also get paid in this manner for his "sound recording" of this song.
Here's some other points to know:
Copyright protection will exceed your life span. Even though copyright protection begins as soon as the song is created it ends 70 years after the death of the creator. If a band was responsible for the creation of a song, copyright protection ends 70 years after the death of the last surviving member.
Songs by unknown musicians of musicians for hire have a copyright protection term for 95 years from the published date or 120 years after the songs creation. Which ever is the shortest amount of time.
After a copyright expires, songs go back into the public domain. All the copyright protection rights no longer apply and anyone can do what they wish with the songs.
Songs do not need to be published to be copyrighted.
One of the best an easiest ways to protect your rights to your recordings is to place a copyright notice on all copies of the recordings. It should include a "P" in a circle for "phono record or recording" and a "C' in a circle for the copyright to the CD, followed by the year of the publication. It should be legible a permanently fixed to the CD. This will notify the public that you are claiming a copyright. Also it protects you in two ways. First, it prevents anyone from claiming that they innocently didn't know your work was copyrighted and second it lets the public knows who owns the recordings. That way if someone wants to use your work in a commercial they know who to contact to obtain a license and who to pay.
Even though a song is protected by copyright law as soon as its created, it is essential to register it with the US Copyright office. It can prove difficult to defend in court that someone stole your ideas if you skip this step. People have had their music and ides stolen because they failed to see the importance of this step. The laws can't really work in your favor if you don't take measures to use the laws to your advantage. Don't be Lazy!
I just scrapped the surface here, but hopefully you have a better understanding of copyright law then you did before.
For more info the U.S. Copyright Office has a lot of good information. You can visit them here: www.copyright.gov