The Copyright Info

This is an brief overview only. You may also consult the pages of various copyright agencies for additional information. If you need specific, legal relevant information or advice, you may have to consult a lawyer specializing in copyright. Some related links are provided at the end of the document. 

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What is copyright ?

The right to make copies from an original piece of a new creation.

Any new creation is rightfully attributed to its creator. He alone has the right to make copies of this creation or let someone else do so by permission. That is why it is called copyright.

We have by tradition divided the copyright in several categories, which are more or less publicly known. The most commonly known copyright in our industrialized world is the patent,  which is the copyright for an industrial or technical invention.The inventor can sell this patent or license it. This kind of copyright is most familiar to most people with any technical knowledge.Most people also know that brandname and trademarks are legally protected entities, which are also somehow a copyright by allowing only the 'owner' to use the specific name or emblem/logo, even a slogan. Most every consumer is familiar with those practices. The term copyright by itself is still mostly associated with printed matter. That books have a copyright has become a household fact. The newpapers and later the braodcasting companies, first on radio than on TV, made the copyright notice a most frequently appearing line.

It is a sad historical fact, that the protection of industrial intellectual property was much higher valued than artistic creation.  The patent laws and industry interest still range higher on the legislative mind. With industrial design and computerization of many traditional production venues shifting into immaterial knowledge areas , these borders began to vanish.  Today the term copyright is used to describe all kind of protections for intellectual property or creation. It seems the copyright has finally found back to its original meaning, including everything one can create - useful or not - as being owned by the creating person, who exclusively has the right to make copies of it.

The recognition of intellectual property and the right protecting it, like a material posession, has a long slow tradition of becoming law. The creative rights of performing artists are still not recognized in many countries. Canada has only now in Spring of 1997 ammended the Copyright Act , which is not even law yet. Other countries have the same copyrights protected for decades. This has caused a lot of imbalance and put artists in countries without this protection at a distinct disadvantage.

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The copyright in music

The copyright applies to music in this way: A music piece is defined mainly by its melody, and the creator - usually called the composer - owns the copyright to this music, like ownership to property.  The copyright is the exclusive right to make copies of the original - hence the name.

In most cases it now protects the authors for a period of 75 years after their death or at least for this period of time since the date of first publication (see your country's Copyright Act for more). The word duplication clearly states by its name that making one single reproduction is already copying!(duplicating) and that means you need permission from the owner of the copyright. For most of the popular music this copyright has been assigned to a publisher (not to be mixed up with the record label/music company)  for monetary exploitation -which means creating revenues from sheet music and recordings, as well as public performances and other uses. The copyright revenues - called royalties - are shared between all participants in the venture: normally the composer, lyricist (the person who wrote the words ), and the publisher.What about the recording artist(s) who performed the song, the record company (label), and the distribution company ? They should collect on another copyright, but that does not stop them from trying to "cut in" on as much as they can grab from the author's copyright revenues.

Most people think there is only one copyright, so it is only fair, that everyone involved gets a "piece of the pie", but there is one important thing to be understood:   A recorded piece of music is actually a subject of two (2) separate, but layered copyrights.
Sometimes referred to as copyright © and copyright (P).  The next paragraphs look at both of this issues more in detail.
(As you see there is no ASCII preset for (P) on the keyboard yet , it should be a circle with a P in it.)

The © Copyright

The creation copyright of the author is most commonly understood and respected. The composers own this right to their music. In most cases this copyright is assigned to a publisher to "sell" the song. That is what copyright contracts are all about. In many countries you can even sell a copyright like a piece of property, where you loose then the future profit and right over the use for one single payment. This has been very often abused by copyright sharks, who would pay the creator only very little and then, when they owned the copyright, made big profits from the song. (the "American" way). Learning from this experience some non english (European) countries have a "fair share" clause, which prevents such rip off schemes ( in return becoming one of the reasons for high foreign content in their music scene).  That is why a creator should be very careful before "selling off" the copyright, it should be assigned (not sold) to a publisher, even with a recourse clause in case of insufficent use / revenues. Many publishers now follow this practise.

The other right is the recording performance production copyright, which is the right of the performing recording artist(s) to their specific interpretation (production/performance) of the song/music which is recorded . However, the recording artist(s) can only use the muisc written by the composer under a copyright license ! The performing artists create the additional copyright of their performance in the recording production - on top of the composer/lyricist creation copyright. That is why those "recording rights" are called in legal terminology "Neighbouring Rights".

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The (P) Production right (Neighbouring rights)

This recording production right is less known, but that is what recording deals with record labels are all about.(or should be!!) They actually are marketing the recording production which is a specific performance of the music, that is why they have to pay copyright royalties to the copyright owners from record sales and they are themselves entitled to production or recording rights royalties, which are due additional to the author's copyright royalties, whenever this recording is used, e.g.. broadcasting , DJ dances, background music (elevator music) and all the other instances where they use recorded music. As said before some countries are very slow in recognizing these rights by law, especially the ones with a powerful broadcast lobby.

This additional copyright was a long neglected issue and only in the last few years has legislation strengthened and finally included Neighbouring Rights into copyright laws. The music using industry still does not like to pay all the producer/musicians additional royalties for their recorded performance. However, the recording artists create an additional performance production copyright. This issue is more complicated since it involves mostly several people - arrangers, producers, musicians and the "star(s)" all sharing in these rights, but it must be seen separate from the composer/author copyright.(and should always be contracted and payed separately). 

 You may get a better idea by checking for yourself, how many different artists have recorded the same song. How many recorded versions of a specific song can you find ? Try it - it's educational! Think also about this: if musicians perform once for a recording and then only the record is played, that makes the musicians jobless!! Here is where the performance right royalties should come in! This is the case in Europe where such agencies collecting recording rights royalties are payed at the same level as copyright royalties. ( e.g. GVL & GEMA in Germany) Canada has only recently (March 1997) passed the necessary ammendments to the Copyright Act, which still has to become law, to enable collection on these rights!

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The royalty issue

Many recording artists write music/songs themselves, and even a large number of them get the two rights mixed up, and the record companies are not very interested in clarification/separation, since this has been, and still is, to their benefit. They want ALL rights assigned to them, to collect and control all revenues, so they more and more took over as publishers.  Downplaying the Production performance rights (sometimes also called recording rights ) was to the benefit of all those who use recorded music, mainly the broadcasting industry. Still today are there too many unaware artists and professionals , and unfortunately, some countries do not even collect such royalties for performers production rights.( the broadcasting lobby is very powerful there !)

 This is one reason, why record companies became publishers, and why the ©copyright is so important to them, and everyone "blackmails" the creators for sometimes more than a 'fair' cut of the copyright revenues. All those sharing and participation venues are born out of the need to create revenues, where the rightful collection of "userfees" has been delayed, not to say denied, by not updating copyright legislation parallel to the changing technical environment. Software did not have to suffer such neglect, maybe because political parties are financed by contributions from industry not from the arts.

However, declining record sales have alerted record companies/(P)Production right owners and publishers /©copyright owners to other previously neglected ways to collect on copyright. ( As said above, record companies are today publishers too !)  Since computer music files are also music recordings, governed by the same copyright laws like any other sound recordings on tapes and CDs (computer disks) copyright owners are legally entiteled to royalties and they want and need them now - no more 'free rides'!

For additional information see

copyright agencies here in Canada
 SOCAN (© performance rights)  
CMRRA (© mechanical rights)

another Canadian site by a lawyer
here you can get the book on copyright

copyright © 1997 by Wolfgang W. Scherer      e-mail


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 W-Music & Arts