Music copyrights allow the creator of a song to protect their works from being sold, distributed, performed, or produced without their consent. In order to obtain a copyright for a song, the owner usually needs to register their song with the U.S. copyright office. Failure to secure a copyright on a song means that others may possibly use the song without the person’s permission.
Copyrights are often at the center of many different intellectual property issues, including:
- Record contracts: Some record contracts involve the protection of copyrighted songs, and their use or sale exclusively with a single record company.
- Royalty payments: Record companies and record stations must pay small fees to the owner of a song each time it is played. These are known as royalties, however, the song needs to be copyrighted first before royalties can be collected.
- Infringement: Unauthorized use of copyrighted songs is called infringement and can result in a lawsuit and even criminal consequences.
- Public performances: Copyrights also dictate who and who can’t perform the song in public for profit.
Copyright disputes can be complex. They often involve determinations regarding which person created a song first, and questions of whether one artist "copied" another artists’ song. This can require expert testimony as the songs and creative processes are analyzed to determine liability. Also, dispute resolution will require a searching of the copyright database.
Violations can lead to fines, jail time, and other consequences. Copyright violations are among the most serious intellectual property crimes and are punished accordingly.
Copyright laws can involve some fairly technical legal concepts. Also, they generally require the assistance of a lawyer, especially if a lawsuit needs to be filed for infringement. You may wish to hire a business lawyer for assistance with a lawsuit or with any other issues regarding copyrights. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and can represent you during the formal lawsuit hearings.