Writers Copyright Association

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Songwriters should always copyright their work as soon as completed but what exactly is 'Copyright' and why should you use it?.

Any original work (lyrics/music etc) is your property as soon as it is created and lasts for approximately 70 years after your death before anyone can use it without your permission, unless it is assigned to some other person by selling it, lending it (for a fee or not), or giving it away.  You will need to protect your masterpiece and provide proof of ownership in case of future dispute. If there is more than one songwriter they should agree a contribution split and each sign a confirmation of agreement.

Titles, names, slogans and phrases cannot be copyrighted although you may be able to apply for a Trademark from the UK Patent Office or search their website for existing names.

Neither can you copyright material already in the 'Public Domain', or an 'Idea' although a composer may take action if it is considered that others are using their work and claiming it to be their own.  Owning or controlling the 'copyright' means you have the right to copy and use it as you wish, prevent someone else copying that work and charge others for copying/using or performing it.

Although registration is not required in the UK, in is important that the creator has a means of proving ownership in the case of despute. Registering your work with an independent body or legal advisor provides the copyright holder with independant proof that is acceptable in a court of law.

There are several ways to Copyright your work:-

Always write the copyright information on your demos, lyric sheet, music score, cds or any other recorded material cover in this format © Date, Name. All songs are copyright control.  The copyright in these sound recordings is owned by (Name). All Rights Reserved.  This should be done prior to enclosing all works in an envelope which should be signed and dated across the seal.  To ensure copyright use one or more of the following:-

Send a copy (never send the original!) of your demo and/or lyric to yourself by registered post. Keep it in a safe place unopened.

Place a copy into a Bank Safe Deposit Box, with a Solicitor, Accountant, or similar professional ensuring that the sealed envelope is signed and dated by both yourself and the Manager or Solicitor who should also provide a receipt (preferably on headed paper with all song titles included).

Writers Copyright Association
The WCA is a UK copyright service with prices per registered work ranging from 25 for 5 years to 80 for 20 years. Also contains sample contracts (Life Story, Screenplay option, Standard Release Form, Writers Collaboration, Licensing Rights to an Article).

UK Copyright Service
registers original works and provides information on Intellectual Property Registration, Copyright and other related UK law.  The registration fees are 30 for 5 years and 60 for 10 years. The work can be written or sent in on CD ROM, Compact disc, Floppy disc, Cassette tape, VHS video tape, Paper documents/books although other formats may be accepted for a further fee. You may register a group of songs at one time for one fee.

If your song has been used without your permission and you can prove copyright ownership you need to seek legal advice from a music lawyer or solicitor before approaching the offending user/company.  Click Here for links to Copyrighting Resources.

Read Copyright - the Truth an introduction provided by Independent Music Law Advisor Elliot Chalmers.

Also note that unless you are the writer and performer of original unpublished works, it is necessary to obtain permissions and/or licences from three sources to use music on the Internet. In the UK these are: MCPS for musical composition, PRS for performance and permission from the record company. This includes everyone from personal pages, hobby sites as well as commercial sites and internet radio stations. Visit Internet and Licensing from Sterling Times containing correspondence regarding the requirements that caused the webmaster to remove his content.

The Cover Song Quagmire: Legally Recording/Distributing Cover Songs

Patent Explained

A Patent is intended to cover products or processess that contain functional or technical aspects. It is normally granted by government to the inventor for a limited period to prevent others from copying, using or selling the invention without their permission. These Patents are territorial. This means that a UK Patent only gives the holder rights within the UK including importing their patented products into the UK.

This means that most artists or bands will be unlikely to require a Patent as it's qualifying requirements do not include literary, dramatic or artistic works. The only time Patent would be relevant for a musicians is if he or she had invented a new musical instrument, adapted a piece of technical equipment or created a unique product.

Royalties Explained

Anyone who wishes to use all or part of your work for publishing or performance purposes are required to pay for a copyright or performance licence. These fees are paid to a collection agency who then forward them to the creator of the musical, artistic or literary work.

'Royalty' is the term used for the portion of funds allocated for payment on a piece of work.  These are split between the record company, publisher, songwriter and performer depending on the type of royalty.  There are several royalties which are gathered and distributed by collection agencies:-

Songwriters/Composers Royalties
Performance Royalties - Paid either directly or indirectly when the work is publicly performed.  This includes live performance, record, broadcast, TV, Film or video.  They are usually collected by organisations like MCPS - PRS Alliance the mechanical copyright and performing rights alliance, Phonographic Performance Limited or similar group who then pay either directly to the author or indirectly through a publisher / recording company, artist agent, manager or other authorised personnel to the authors and performers. NOTE:- You do not require a Recording or Publishing contract to claim Broadcast Royalties but you will need to know the titles, dates/times etc!  PRS also hold Seminars on Music Industry & Artist Information.

Mechanical Royalties - Paid by record companies for the right to manufacture records embodying the work.  These are usually collected and distributed by the relevant countries collection agency.

Artist/Performers Royalties
Are completely seperate from royalties due for Songwriters/Composers although also collected and distributed by MCPS - PRS Alliance and similar organisations.  These are paid by the record companies to the artist or band that performed the song/s released by the company and the percentage figure is included in the recording contract. If the songwriter is also the performer of the tracks then they will receive the percentage of performance royalties as well as writing royalties.  These royalties are usually negotiable but often 10% - 15%.

The Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) are a UK collection and distribution organisations for performers. They collect and pay out royaties to performers for the broadcast of their recorded performances. If you are an artist who has made a commercial recording which has been broadcast or played in public then you may be due royalty fees.

Royalties Payments Services - More than 5,000 performers have royalties owed to them. This includes unsigned bands and musicians as well as established acts, all of whom may have royalties owed from airplay and venues..... Read the Royalty Payment Service FAQ or visit Royalties Reunited to register (free).

When you are employed to perform at a UK event, concert or gig, the venue, organiser, agent or promoter is responsible for paying copyright royalties, to the collection agency, which are then distributed to the songs creators and publishers. At one point the licence payment required the event holder to provide a list of all the tracks performed for each event. If the artist performs original tracks instead of covers, it is important to keep a list of all tracks performed including date, time and venue to enable them to claim any royalty payments that may be due.

In other countries like the US, the performer is required to licence the right to perform the song and applies to the publisher or author of the songs for permission of use which may be given freely or supplied for a fee depending on the intended use.

Royalties are usually collected and distributed approximately twice a year.

Trademarks Explained

A Trademark is usually defined as a name, logo, image, photograph, slogan or piece of text that distinguishes an item or service from another. This sort of identifiable symbol is used by companies, bands and singers to create an instantly recognised 'brand identity' that sets them apart from other similar services or products. For instance, a band can 'Trademark' their Band Name and Logo to prevent others from using them.

A good example of a 'Trademark' image is the 'Apple' corporation whose neat little logo instantly identifies their trademark to the viewer.

In the UK the Patent Office oversees the registration of Trade Marks and it states that: "To be registerable, a trade mark must be distinctive for the goods/services for which registration is sought and not deceptive, or contrary to law or morality and not identical or similar to any earlier marks for the same or similar goods/services."

Deliberate use of a mark currently registered by a company or individual without their knowledge is a criminal offence known as counterfeit. The guilty party can be sued for infringement under the trade mark laws if you can show that their mark is being used on a similar product or service and bears a resemblance to your own.

Owners of unregistered marks can still prevent others from using them by proving prior use and convicing a court that the other party is using a word, logo or image that is associated with you.

Books on Copyright
In Association with &

This is just a small selection of books and audio books available. Visit our Books For Singers to see the full list which includes exercises, music theory, vocalises, sheet music, audition repertoire, and tuition books for singers of all standards and styles.

A User's Guide to Copyright by Michael F. Flint Butterworth
Widely regarded as the leading introductory text for copyright law, Flint: A User's Guide to Copyright is now in its fifth edition. This acclaimed book explains the law and scope of copyright and provides answers to the problems that arise in practice. The text takes account of significant developments emanating from the EC including the European Design Directive, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the Data Protection Act 1998. The text covers design and industrial designs, EU law and copyright, copyright and designers and on-line services, making this a highly accessible reference source for both specialist IP lawyers and anyone who has any involvement with copyright law.
A User's Guide to Copyright -
A User's Guide to Copyright -

Copyright & Royalties Resources

The following are just a few selections from our extensive links to UK and International Songwriting Sites & Resources.

4 Front Music - Chris Knab
is a music business consultant, author and lecturer. His website is packed full of useful information for musicians

10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained
A brief introduction to Copyright by Brad Templeton

British Music Rights
Respect the Value of Music Campaign. Trade organisation providing informtion and advice on Music Rights

Chilling Effects
Free online information on legal aspects of US copyrights, trademarks and patents including parody and derivative works.

Christian Copyright Licencing (Europe) Ltd
Provides information and services for Licence Holders, Copyright Administrators and contains a downloadable ABC of UK Copyright.

US Copyrighting service, prices include the Federal Filing Fee which they arrange for you, site also includes copyright information and resources.

Provides information on the basics of US copyright, its duration, fair use guidelines, multimedia and links to copyright webpages. Created by Brenda Braham, MLS, Librarian, Montgomery College, Germantown, Maryland

Copyright Law and the Ethics of Sampling
Information, articles and advice for artists who use sampled sounds in their work.

Copyright Law for the Music Industry
An informative article on USA copyright laws and requirements

Copyright & Songwriting Basics
article on USA copyright law and requirements.

Copyright Licensing Agency
is the UK's Reproduction Rights Organisation which provides licenses allowing the copying of extracts from books, magazines and other literary works.

Copyright Website, The
Endeavors to provide real world, practical and relevant copyright information of interest to all

Creators Rights Alliance (CRA) UK
Brings together the major UK organisations representing copyright creators and content providers throughout the media - particularly, television, radio and the press. The National Union of Journalists is a founder member of this unprecedented alliance across traditional organisational boundaries

all about watermarking which enables you to embed information within images.

Duly Noted
An on-line copyright registration and back-up service, providing protection for creative works and their authors. We provide one of the most secure, affordable and easiest methods of copyright registration found anywhere on the web. Using the latest in fingerprint technology, we can ensure that once a work is registered with us, not only is it safely secured, but it cannot be tampered with; so in the case of an infringement case being brought, we can guarantee the authenticity and date of when the work was registered. Not only that, but our GemProtect back-up service enables subscribers to securely hold their valuable creative works for retrieval in the event of a disaster

European Patent
Searching of offices in European Union countries.

Federation Against Copyright Theft
7 Victory Business Centre, Worton Road, Isleworth, Middlesex TW7 6DB. Tel: 020 8568 6646  Email:

Free Advice
US site providing online music copyright information plus other legal resources, information and forms.

includes music related tips including US Copyright Law: Frequently Asked Questions, US Mechanical Royalty Rates, Royalties & The Pitfalls by Ivan Hoffman plus downloadable US copyright and other forms.

Own It
Free advice on intellectual property with articles, podcasts, factsheets, legal advice, faq and events.

Musicalc Royalty Accounting Software
Used by record and music publishing companies worldwide to produce royalty statements plus other tools and utilities to aid in calculating royalties.

Music Law
US solicitor provides online information on legal issues regarding music and musicians including managers, performance, copyright and other related subjects.

Provides links and articles on US intellectual property issues including music copyright, trademarks and fair use.

Original UK HipHop
Site as an extremely useful beginners guide to sample clearance.

Range of Royalties and Mechanical Royalties
Advice from Los Angeles based music attorney Donald S. Passman

Sample Clearance Services specialise in finding and aquiring permission for use on samples for use in artists works. Based in Brighton UK, telephone 01273 326999.

UK based song copyright company providing 5 yearly copyright and legal advice services for songwriters.

UK Patent Office
has information on copyright, trademarking and patenting available plus registration forms and other services.

US Codes: Copyright
The strict legal definitions of United States Copyright laws.

USA Copyright Office
has information on US copyright law, copyright record search, publications, licensing and registration details, forms, factsheets, fee changes, law, policy, how to register a work, record a document and information on Patents and Trademarks, also the official copyright registry for the USA.

USA Copyright Forms
available for free download from the USA Copyright Office website.

What About Royalties? A Sound Guide For Musicians
Article explaining the way royalties are collected and paid by Venture Navigator. World Intellectual Property Organisation
(WIPO) proved a list of administrations in each country responsible for policy.

Where to download music legally
Links and list of websites where you can download music legally provided by the Guardian Newspaper.

Songwriters Copyright Bureau's & Advice Centers

Visit our Associations and Organisations section which contains links to worldwide copyright and licensing offices and other resources.

Australian Copyright Council - The Council is an independent non-profit organization that provides information on copyright and is funded by the Australia Council.

ALCS - Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society - UK

AMCOS - Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society

APRA - Australisian Performing Rights Association

Arts Law Centre of Australia - a not for profit organisation for artists and arts organisations providing legal advice and services to artists on wide variety of issues, including copyright, contract, and business matters.

ASCAP - American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers

BIEM - International organisation in France that represents mechanical rights societies

BMI - Broadcast Music Incorporated an American performing rights organization

BUMA / STEMRA / CEDAR - The Netherlands Copyright Organizations

CAL - Copyright Agency Limited is an Australian copyright management company.

CISAC - The International Confederation Of Societies Of Authors And Composers

Copyright Board of Canada

CMRRA - The Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency

GEMA - German Society For Musical Performing and Mechanical Reproduction Rights

Harry Fox Agency - USA licensing agency.

IMRO - Irish Music Rights Organization

JASRAC - Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers.

KODA - Copyright & Performing Rights Society for Denmark, Greenland & Faroe Islands.

MCPS - PRS Allicance - British Mechanical Copyright Protection Society Limited and Performing Rights Society

MU-YAP - Turkish performing rights organization for phonogram producers

NCB - Nordisk Copyright and Mechanical Rights Bureau

NMPA - Harry Fox Agency, American Performing rights

SABAM - Belgian Society of Authors, Composers, and Publishers

SACEM - Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music in France

SACD - Society of Authors and Composers of Dramatic Works in France

SESAC - Society of European Stage Authors & Composers USA

SGAE - Spanish Society of Authors and Publishers.

SOCAN - Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada

STIM - Swedish Performing Rights Society

SUISA - Swiss Performing Rights Society

TONO - The Norwegian Performing Right Society