Copyright infringement is a complex legal specialty, especially as it applies to musicians and music that is created by an artist. How can you best protect your work as an author of music under copyright law? How can you avoid infringing on someone else’s copyright? If you’re unsure about these questions, consult the team at Duncan Firm.
Though copyright on your work is technically established the moment the work is committed to a permanent form (i.e. a piece of sheet music, an audio recording), to enforce that copyright in court, you will need to register your work with the US Copyright Office. This involves paying a fee and sending the Copyright Office a “deposit copy” of your work for archiving purposes and registration. You generally need a registration in hand before you can file a case in court.
Musicians should be aware that sheet music and sound recordings are considered separate copyrightable items. If you write down a new piece of music and then make a demo recording of it, you may to need to obtain the copyright for both items separately. Also, song lyrics are considered literary works and are generally copyrighted separately from the accompanying audio of this music.
As any composer will tell you, there are only twelve notes in the Western musical scale and only so many ways to put them together. This makes the field of copyright law for musical works challenging. Many songs use the same chord progressions and forms of harmony.
To prove that a musical copyright has been infringed, the court or fact finder (jury) will need to agree that there is “substantial similarity” between two musical works, such that one is copying the other. To determine this, the court will consider many criteria, including:
Like any artist, musicians would rather be creating than spending time dealing with legal issues. But the legal issues need to be considered for any successful recording artist to protect your rights or avoid liability. Still, there can be a lot at stake in copyright infringement cases, from royalties to ownership of songs, which makes an understanding of copyright essential for every musician. If you have questions or a potential copyright issue, contact the experienced copyright lawyers at Duncan Firm.