Understanding copyright:

• What is copyright?
• Where did it originate from?
• In the age of Soundcloud, sampling and remixing, does copyright still matter?

Over the decades, a number of artists and musicians have been caught up in messy legal disputes due to issues related to copyright infringement.

As Picasso once said, “good artists copy, great artists steal,” but it’s not exactly fair for artists to benefit or profit from work derived from someone else’s, is it?

There are two schools of thought in relation to music copyright: according to certain music scholars, musical copyright should no longer be considered important as it was initially established to protect literary works. On the other hand, other researchers argue that copyright protection in the current digital era is more important than ever before and needs to be protected for the sake of artists.

Are these claims true? What is copyright anyway?

Do we really need to protect music using copyright in our digitally advanced 21st century?

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To find answers and understand the role of copyright, let’s rewind and take a historical journey to the 18th century, when copyright was first established.

It all began when the statute of Anne of 1710 was created to protect the tangible literary, musical and artistic works of creators enabling authors to exploit their works and receive incentives during their lifetime plus 70 years after their death. Fast forward 300+ years to today and you will find that the same rules apply.

When first establishing copyright policies, the government looked to protect the rights of authors, however also wanted to use copyright as a way of encouraging “citizens to make and share their creative works with the public, thereby enriching society”. This later led to the principle of ‘fair use’, that included a set of criteria which made copying ‘acceptable’ to a certain extent.

However nowadays

The principle of ‘fair use’ is commonly disregarded with technology making illegal music copying significantly easy. According to the MUSO Global Piracy Insight Annual Report of 2017, an approximate 191 billion visits are made to websites which stream pirated music content online. That’s 25 pirated music streams for every single person on earth.

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Not only is this a threat to the identity of artists, but it is also a threat to the value of their recorded music works. With numerous cases of infringement surging, a question we may ask ourselves is how do we use copyright to protect musical works and compositions?

It is useful to know…

That a song or musical composition does not need to be officially registered at the copyright office to be protected; once it is written down or recorded, it automatically receives the copyright protection status. However, when releasing a song or an album it is highly recommended that the musical work is registered at the national copyright office; this will easily enable the owner to sue in a case of copyright infringement. The practice of unlicensed sampling is also a frequent occurrence within the contemporary music industry. The simple act of coping the riff or several seconds of song without an official licence can get one into big trouble; at worst sued for millions of pounds for copyright infringement.

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So, what can you do if you feel as though your song has been copied without permission?

Before pointing any fingers, you will have to prove that you retain a valid copyright licence for your work. Gather in-depth evidence, proving that the infringer allegedly copied your work and if possible find a lawyer to help you build your case. Another route to take is to notify search engines like YouTube about the alleged infringement by submitting a copyright take down notice, which, if thoroughly investigated could led to the removal of the infringer’s work.

Overall

We can say that copyright laws created hundreds of years ago were very important and continue to be a relevant and valuable tool in the world of music today. Copyright is a right for all artists, and creatives should feel motivated to create new works knowing that their rights will be protected and respected, and be profitable for them within an international market ruled by an international law.