Intellectual property – Decoded

You make music – congratulations you are now intimately connected with and a part of the world that lawyers call ‘Intellectual Property’! Didn’t realise that? Well you are. And that is a good thing. Allow us to explain.

What is intellectual property? According to no less authority than the World Intellectual Property Organization:

“Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.”

So if you have an idea, a song for example, and that idea has a commercial usage, ie selling a recording of that song, then the concept of intellectual property and the laws around it come into play. If that sounds rather scary, it shouldn’t – for musicians, artists and songwriters who create original music, intellectual property law exists to safeguard their rights and how their creations are used commercially.


There are two main areas of intellectual property and they are both relevant to artists and writers:


·         Copyright. You’ve probably heard of this one – copyright covers artistic and literary works, in other words songs, melodies, lyrics and recordings. In most European languages other than English, copyright is known as Author’s rights.


·         Industrial intellectual property. This includes areas like inventions, patents, designs, trademarks and names. So from an artists’ perspective that covers things like your band name and logo.


Both types of intellectual property enjoy legal protections to stop them being taken and exploited by people who don’t own them. For designs and trademarks, as long as they are new and original they are legally protected. The legal protection coves any usage of the idea without the authorisation of the owner. This means that your band name and your logo, as long as they are original, cannot be used by anyone else, on a T-shirt for example.


For copyright, the key difference is that the law covers the expression of an idea. So an idea isn’t covered by copyright law until it is somehow expressed, for example written down or recorded. At that point the expression of the idea, eg the recording, is legally protected, and only the owner of the copyright can authorise any copying of the idea.


If a country’s legal system incorporates the concept of ‘Author’s rights’, for example in many Continental European countries, then there are certain rights that the Author always retains. The Author can issue or sell a license to copy their idea – for example to a record company so that they can issue and sell recordings – but the Author keeps hold of other rights, such as the right to prevent a distorted reproduction for example.


The other key point to be aware of when it comes to intellectual property is how long the legal protection lasts. For designs and trademarks, protection generally lasts indefinitely if they continue to be actively used by the owner of the marks. Copyright however varies by country, for example US copyright law offers a longer term of protection than most European countries, and the protection also varies depending on how the idea is expressed. In general recordings are protected for a fixed period of time (eg 70 years in the case of many European countries) while lyrics are protected for the lifetime of the author or authors plus a fixed period of time after they pass away.


Intellectual property can seem very legal and complex, but as an artist these laws exist for your protection. If you want to investigate more or see how any ideas of yours might be protected you should always speak to a qualified legal advisor.

Things like this can be pretty hard to get to grips with. When you have a manager they will deal with this confusing stuff for you. Make sure you have the right manager for you.


Get Started