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Copyright for Musicians - 5 Dos and Don'ts

  • 26 July 2013, Friday
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An artist on stage singing into a microphone

Protect everything you compose and write

Your first demo may not be a mastered product, but you still don’t want anybody stealing your melodies or lyrics. If you send demos to record labels, they shouldn’t use any of your musical ideas without your permission. However, it’s best to make sure that you can prove your authorship before sending your work out into world.

As you can probably tell, this is a complicated topic. Here are some tips to help get you started:

 DO:

 1. Research copyright law in your country

Unlike the USA, there is no state copyright office in Germany. This means that you have to search for alternatives. In theory you can go to a notary with your CD, and ask them to certify the official date your work was created. There are even notaries who offer this service online, but there is one big disadvantage to this system: whether in person or online, it is a very expensive process. If you are registering a whole album, it can amount to a few hundred euros, and there are often regular monthly payments to contend with too.

 2. Use digital services to help you.

A pirated song can get passed around the world in a flash these days. However, thanks to the new possibilities provided by the digital age, it has become very simple to get your songs fully protected online for free. Alongside various online providers, digital music distributors have also started to help their clients out in this area. They offer copyright registration for little or no extra charge.

 3. Register your songs.

As soon as you record, release or perform a song live you should become a member of your local collection society and register it. Each country has its own collection society: GEMA in Germany, Austro-Mechana in Austria, and SUISA in Switzerland. As soon as your music is played in public, these societies collect royalties in your name. Whether on the radio, in a club, or on stage, there are plenty of earnings which will eventually reach your bank account this way.

DON'T:

1. Use ‘poor man’s copyright’ or other ‘home made’ tactics.

There is a myth that if you post yourself a copy of your CD, record, or tape, you are legally proving your ownership of the song by the date on the postage stamp. This is not true. The only way you can be sure you have registered copyright is by receiving an official statement specifying the date that the work in question was written and recorded, and who the author and the contributing musicians are. A DIY approach can be wonderful in other areas of music, but in this case you have to bite the bullet and do things officially.

2. Create band conflict.

If several people are involved in your band, you need to be clear regarding the distribution of each person's respective shares. This should be decided upon as soon as possible, in order to avoid conflict later on. This distribution agreement should be settled before a song is released. The MusicLocker service offered by iMusician is also helpful in this situation. It enables the composers and writers names to be registered and safely stored, so that you and your band don't need to argue later on about who wrote what.

If you have composed and recorded a song that you'd like to use as a demo, it's definitely worth thinking about this topic. After all, you've probably invested a lot of time, emotional energy and even money in this song. The final step is to give yourself the satisfaction of knowing that you can prove your authorship, should it prove necessary to do so.

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