So, here we are. Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!
Today will be the first of a short series of weekly entries. For you my dear readers, I will clarify the infamously grey and misty area that is rights and royalties. After this, you should have a clearer understanding of their purpose, what goes to who, which you should concern yourself with and when. And please, if you have any questions, leave a comment below or email me!
We will run through:
Compulsory License and Fees
Songwriters and Publishers vs. Musical Artists and Performers
A) All this means is that you own the right to copy your musical work (i.e. music and/or lyrics). By owning this right, you also own the right to license this right to anyone of your choosing. (For a fee of course. Unless you don’t mind handing it out for free. You own the rights, you do what you will.)
It is true that once you think of or create something you do in fact own the rights to it. The only problem is you have no real concrete evidence to prove it is yours. A registered copyright is an official (sign sealed and stamped) government document that is undeniable proof of ownership. It’s your choice. Defend your ownership with word of mouth, dated material, possibly a postmarked self delivered letter containing your work –OR– a letter from the United States Copyright Office officially declaring your rightful ownership.
Your work must be fixed to something tangible in order to register it. Whether it be a file in Pro Tools, a voice memo on your phone, on sheet music or even scribbled on a napkin… You can’t copyright an idea that’s possibly floating around in the deep recesses of your mind. We don’t have the technology to tap into that yet.
B) Aside from owning the rights to your musical work (song and/or lyrics), you can also own the particular master or sound recording of a musical work. A musical work can have many masters, but only one owner. Many sound recording copyrights, but only one musical work copyright.
For example, say I write a song and own it. Let’s call it “Naima’s Jam.” From here I can decide to produce the recording myself, or I can just stick to being a songwriter and license it to someone else to produce it. Let’s say I produce it…
We sit in the studio, record it, engineer it, tweak it, and all goes well. “Naima’s Jam” out on iTunes! Down load now! Woo hoo! To recap, I own the musical work “Naima’s Jam”, as well as the rights to this particular recording of “Naima’s Jam”. Now let’s say a few weeks, months, or even the next day, some artist (oh hell, let’s say David Byrne) hears it and loves it so much he wants to record it. David Byrne must contact me, or my secretary because I’m such a big shot songwriter, to request the right to record “Naima’s Jam”. I say yes, and he buys the license, or the right, to record my song. (When I say my song, I mean the musical work, not the recording that was already made) Now there are two recordings of “Naima’s Jam”. One by Naima, the songwriter, and the other by David Byrne. One owner of the musical work, and two masters or sound recordings of the musical work. There is no limit to the number of masters as long as the artists seeks permission and the permission is granted by the songwriter/owner of the musical work.
The sound recording copyright comes in handy for sampling. Say Masta Ace heard “Naima’s Jam” by David Byrne and he wants to record a new album because of it. Masta Ace wants to sample a segment of David Byrne’s recording of “Naima’s Jam” in one, or two, or three or all of the tracks on his new album! Doesn’t matter how small or large the sample is (“if the sample is small enough you can use it without asking permission” is a flat out myth!). Masta Ace would have to request permission to sample from both myself as songwriter and owner of the original musical work, and David Byrne as producer and owner his recording of my musical work. He must acquire permission from both of us in order to move forward and sample the recording. If one of us says yea, and the other nay, it is a “no go” for Masta Ace’s masta plans.
As long as permission is granted, terms are discussed, contracts signed and fees paid, anyone can be the owner of a musical work or master.
A songwriter can be the copyright owner, but an owner doesn’t have to be a songwriter. The songwriter or copyright owner can always sell his or her rights to another. The song could also be commissioned a “work for hire”. A work for hire is work done for a salary or one time commission fee. You as songwriter write something for your employer at their behest and you relinquish ownership of what ever work you do while under their employment. Sounds sad, but hey, you signed the contract! (Hint: try to avoid gigs like this, and always own your songs)
As far as owning the master goes, that could be just about anyone. This is usually the producer of the album who in turn could be the one who organizes and provides the capital, the recording artist, the sound engineer, the mixer, or just some one who really is obsessed and loves a particular recording and paid copious amounts of money to claim the rights. Anything is possible as long as ‘permission is granted, terms are discussed, contracts signed and fees paid’.
That’s all for now kids… and remember, keep it sounding right.