Musicians and creators pour an enormous amount of time, effort and passion into creating unique music and songs for their fans to enjoy. The last thing you want is for your original creations to be copied, ripped off or used without your permission. When you create something new, it comes with automatic rights and copyright is a type of intellectual property. This guide will unravel the mystery around copyright and help you protect yourself from becoming a victim of intellectual property theft.
According to gov.uk:
Copyright protects your work and stops others from using it without your permission. You get copyright protection automatically - you don’t have to apply or pay a fee, and it usually lasts for 70 years after the creator’s death. There isn’t a register of copyright works in the UK so you automatically get copyright protection when you create unique musical work.
Copyright prevents people from:
You can license the use of your work if you own the copyright. For example, you can register your work with a licensing body who will collect royalties for you. You can also sell or transfer the copyright of your music to others.
Licensing bodies manage writer’s and composer’s rights and royalties on their behalf, meaning they can collect money for these creators and pay royalties to them. They also help artists have an extra level of protection over their intellectual property. When you register your music with them it is recognised, carries weight and is date stamped. It’s like having a giant in your corner backing you up.
Here are some of the most recognised licensing bodies in the UK…
PRS for Music is the home of the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) and they represent two kinds of rights for songs and compositions. Their aim is to see composers and producers get fairly paid wherever their music is being performed and copied. PRS for Music gives you the ability to register your songs, amend your songs and report live performances, and allows them to license your music to businesses and collect royalties from around the globe for you.
PRS focuses on performing rights and collects royalties on behalf of their members whenever music is broadcast on TV, film or radio, streamed, downloaded, or performed or played in public. It is owned and governed by its members.
MCPS focuses on mechanical rights and collects royalties when music is copied physically (e.g. onto CDs, vinyls and DVDs), used in TV, film or radio, or streamed or downloaded. It is owned by the Music Publishers Association.
To use the services of both PRS and MCPS you need to sign up for PRS for Music. They charge a one-off membership fee of £100 and admin fees are deducted from royalties by percentage for the services provided.
PPL is a separate organisation that manages the rights of sound recordings on behalf of performers and record companies. They license the use of recorded music and although they are based in the UK, they collect royalties from around the world.
To use the services of PPL you can register free of charge. PPL deducts a percentage of your royalties to cover the service e.g. international collections stand at 7%.
If you decide you’re not ready to sign up to a licensing body, or you want to gain as much protection as possible against intellectual property theft, here are some ways you can prove the copyright of your music belongs with you.
The UK government states, ‘You can mark your work with the copyright symbol (©), your name and the year of creation. Whether you mark the work or not it doesn’t affect the level of protection you have.’
This is a deterrent of intellectual property theft.
Date stamping is about proving when you wrote a piece of music or a song. In proving that you wrote it prior to someone else, you are showing that the copyright belongs with you.
Let’s nod back to pre-internet days when people would date stamp their work through sending CDs and cassettes to themselves via recorded mail and leave it sealed should they need proof of the date of its creation. People even stored their recordings with their bank! These are still legitimate ways of time stamping your material, as long as they remain unopened.
Shortly after the internet was rolled out to the masses, people started emailing recordings of their tracks to themselves for the same reason. This is another way to prove the date you have written the music. If a recording comes out after this date claiming to hold the copyright, you have proof to the contrary.
Every piece of recording, writing and editing throughout the process of creating a unique piece of music builds a picture of its authenticity. Save and keep lyric edits, notes, amendments, riff ideas, previous versions and alternations while you are going through the creation process. If they are recorded and time stamped - even better!
Find PRS for Music, PPL and government guidance on copyright here.
Publishing is a subject close to my heart as my first publishing deal directly resulted in me buying my home. It can be incredibly lucrative. It’s important that we, as artists, understand what a publishing deal is, and how it benefits our career.
I’m convinced that a lot of artists sign publishing deals without really understanding what it is that they are signing. We need to get the basics down, so lets recap on the history. The sale of sheet music predates the sales of physical records. That means the publishing industry is older than the recorded music industry, and that's why a record company is still a separate entity to a publisher.
However, things can get a little bit blurry with the “360 deal” whereby a company will represent an artist in all aspects. For instance, label services may include publishing, but it is still helpful to think of the disciplines as separate. To make it completely clear, we can still split recorded music and songwriting into two distinct categories, the rights for the song live with the publishers, whereas recorded music rights live with the labels.
Currently, it might be that you are publishing your songs through a self-owned label or personal artistic brand, however, sooner or later you may do deals. You may even sign with a holistic a music industry company that offers to publish alongside managing your recorded rights, however, in your mind, these royalties need to remain split as they are collected and distributed in different ways.
When you write a song, assuming you haven’t stolen it from anywhere and it’s your own work, then the ownership of that song lives with you. A lot of bands get hung up about songwriting splits and this is probably a subject for another video. For now, I’m going to assume that you own 100% of the song, everything from the top-line, the lyrics and the backing track.
So, what are we going to do with it? Well, you have a few options, you can publish it yourself, you can do an admin deal or you can do a co-publishing deal. It’s through one of these three structures you will collect royalties, and for your clarity, the royalties are broken down into three different types.
These are paid on the manufacture, distribution, and sale of physical formats, such as CDs and Vinyl. A percentage of the overall sale goes to the writer.
Paid to the writer, with the logic that although the writer may not be there on the night of the performance, it is fair to remunerate them for their work. It’s the venue that pays the performance royalties.
This is for when your material appears on TVs, adverts or films and the like.
If you currently do not have a publishing deal and you are self-releasing, then, whether you know it or not, you are your own publisher. To collect your royalties, you can sign up to PRS who will collect your performance royalties and mechanicals. You can sign up for PRS for music by following this link . It does not cost too much and it’s a great investment for your career.
You may be wondering, if it’s so easy to do this then why do I need a publishing deal? To answer this let’s think logistically. If you are releasing music in a multitude of territories it can be tough to collect all of the associated royalties. Having a publisher on board who has offices in the States, Europe, or wherever it may be to collecting these for you will be incredibly helpful.
You may consider the halfway house, which is an admin deal, you typically pay 10-15% for the publisher to collect royalties on your behalf. It’s of benefit as they will act professionally and collect royalties from other territories. However, they will not push to maximise the commercial potential of your songs, if you want that and you want the publisher to champion your act, get you some syncs, an advert, or even push the record company to support your band, then you need a co-publishing deal.
Typically in this deal, 75% of the publishing rights are retained by the writer, whereas 25% are awarded to the publishing company and they give you an advance. The advance is an interesting topic, it’s against your future earnings, so you will not get paid anything until that advance is recouped. It is just a loan to you against future earnings, an advance can be anything from a few grand to six figures plus, it can be really useful to keep the band moving in the leaner times and it’s a great investment in your future.
Additionally, that means the publishing company has a vested interest in maximising your revenue as, if you don’t earn any money than a publisher will not recoup. So, how does a publisher do that? One thing that is overlooked is the revenue benefits of organising co-writes with people that have a track record, this can turbocharge your career. There are other obvious quick wins like placing your songs in adverts, films or computer games.
You need to be really clear about this, if you take that money, you are not going to receive a penny more until that loan is paid back. Now, there is a difference between an advance with your publisher and an advance with your record label. Due to the costs associated with a record deal, a publishing deal tends to recoup faster than the record deal. This means you may be in a cycle of permanent debt in both a major and indie label deal. However, you could be recouping on your publishing fairly quickly, one advert or placement in a film may become a good earner and you will be in the green.
In my career, the critical first hit was engineered by our publishing company who organised co-writes. Without that happening in the early nineties, I wouldn’t be here talking about this stuff now. I hope you can see the power the right publisher at the optimum time has for your project.
It’s important to understand the normal sequence of events, although it’s not impossible for a publisher to come in early days, take an A&R role and see the potential in a band, and sign them, the set up is very atypical. Usually, its the last thing in the chain, publishers will want something there for them to collect. It’s down to you to prove the concept!
You need a growing and significant audience, some radio action, management, an agent and a buzz around a band, it is normally at this point that a publisher gets involved. I’m sorry if this seems like bad news, as I know we are always looking for a quick fix, unfortunately, publishing is not one of those. It’s most definitely something to be aware of, publish yourself, and put it in your own structure. The timing for signing with the right publisher is going to be one or two years down the line when the act is hot and happening. However, the good news is that when it comes to it, you are in a position to not only maximise your advance but to improve the terms of the publishing deal. A publishing deal is normally a 75/25 split however it can be as low 90/10 in favour of an established artist.
So, what happens if you are a songwriter but not a performing artist? You’ll be pleased to know that there are a lot of people in that position who become professional songwriters. The usual route is that they write songs with artists that go on to be successful and score a publishing deal off the back of this work.
This strategy is great, as you could easily work with hundred’s artists and maximises your chance of success, it only takes one hit for your career exponentially grow. That being said, if you are serious about writing, there has been a cultural shift in the last fifteen years and its essential that your music production skills are superb. You need to deliver finished records, not demo’s!! People don’t have the imagination to say “I can hear it’s a great song and will be huge with production.” It needs to be finished and ready to go. You have to get solid at music production!
- ‘Water bear’ is the common name for a Tardigrade.
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