Non-copyrighted music is any musical work not protected by copyright. Anyone can use, perform, or sell the work because it has not been registered for copyright protection. This is why it is so important for musical artists to copyright their works.
To obtain certain copyright protection, a person must formally register their musical work with federal and state copyright authorities. This means registering the work with the U.S. Copyright Office for federal copyright protection.
A copyright gives its owner the right to prevent others from using the work they have originally authored. Under the federal copyright law, a copyright owner has exclusive rights to their work, including such rights as:
- The right to reproduce the copyrighted work;
- The right to distribute copies of the protected work to the public for sale;
- The right to offer live performances of the copyrighted work;
- The right to sell licenses to others to use the work for a price.
The copyright owner can sue anyone who uses their copyrighted work without their permission for copyright infringement. If someone else wants to make legitimate use of the copyrighted production, they must have an agreement with the copyright owner.
Some examples of music that might be non-copyrighted include:
- Songs personally composed by an amateur individual or amateur group of performers;
- Short tunes, such as advertising jingles that were composed for limited and specific purposes;
- Songs associated with tradition or long in common use whose creator is unknown.
There is a small market for non-copyrighted music. The body of non-copyrighted music comprises music that has either seen its existing copyright expire or music that has been deliberately made exempt from copyright. A song or other musical composition might also be exempt from copyright laws because the author or composer wants it to be freely available in the public domain.
If a song or other musical work is declared “public domain,” a person who did not create the work does not need a license to use it, whether for personal or commercial use. It is considered non-copyrighted music.
All of these types of music are often very old. Their copyrights may have expired because copyright protection does not last indefinitely. Music originating within the past 50 years is unlikely to come within this category.
What Is Music in the Public Domain?
People often seek public domain music to use in their productions of videos and advertisements. For example, some very well-known works of classical music belong to the public domain and are used regularly for this reason alone.
On some occasions, artists can release their music on a free license, but this does not happen often. It would be challenging for anyone to locate this type of material. Also, they are unlikely to be offered “free” for commercial use in these instances.
Suppose a person seeks to secure the rights to top-quality music that fits their needs, whatever they may be. In this case, trying to fill that need with non-copyright music may prove to be a losing battle because the actual availability of the material is minimal and difficult to locate.
Given that not a large amount of music would qualify as non-copyrighted and even less when it comes to being modern and relevant, a person may have more success in trying to use royalty-free music. Royalty-free music is music that is available for use with payment of a one-off fee. It is competitively priced and usually offered as part of an overall subscription with a service provider.
A good royalty-free music provider offers a large library of music, covering all styles and genres and a wealth of sound effects. Royalty-free music is produced by talented individuals, musicians, and bands motivated by the promise of increased exposure and a financial reward for their work. There are musical acts that make an acceptable living from this source of income and offer unique, quality musical productions that might serve well for whatever use a person may have for it.
The size and accessibility of the royalty-free music market means that people basically have at their fingertips a near-endless supply of musical content. The fact that this resource is ample means that a person can probably find what they are looking for in a musical work.
For instance, a person may be putting together a commercial for their brand. The huge costs associated with using mainstream tracks and songs are not costs that the person can absorb. Or, they might hire a musical group to create something original, but that cost would also be exorbitant. A person can find the kind of song that really works best for their creation in the catalog of royalty-free music.
The best thing about royalty-free music is the fact that a person would manage to avoid any allegations of copyright infringement, the expense of lawsuits, or the possibility of criminal charges for criminal copyright infringement.
How Do I Copyright a Song?
Again, the artist should register their musical works directly with the U.S. Copyright Office for federal copyright protection. This can be done in several ways, including electronically and via the United States Postal Service (USPS). A copy can be sent to the U.S. Copyright Office. A person need not send in the original.
Some companies complete this process for the songwriter. However, when working with a company that offers copyright registration, a person would want to follow up and ensure that their song has been officially registered. Copyright fraud can be the result when a person hands their work to an organization that is not trustworthy.
What Are Some Issues Associated with Copyrights and Music?
Other legal issues relating to copyrights and music include:
- Royalties: Royalties are fees paid by record companies to the copyright holder, usually the composer of the musical work;
- Sampling: Sampling is the use of segments of copyrighted songs in another song;
- Recording Contracts: Recording contracts can involve several issues, some involving copyright considerations but also other important provisions as well;
- Performances: Copyrights also protect the performance of songs, whether on radio, in person, and via any other media;
- Music downloads: Newer internet technologies have made it easier to obtain illegal copies of copyrighted music, download them, or make them available online.
Violations of copyright protection, which is the use of the copyrighted property without the owner’s permission, is known as copyright “infringement” in legal terminology. It is usually a matter that is handled through a civil lawsuit brought by the copyright owner against the infringer. A lawsuit of this type can result in the infringer paying monetary damages to the copyright owner.
However, copyright infringement can also be a federal criminal offense if the infringer reproduces or distributes at least 10 copies of phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works within 180 days, and the retail value of the reproduced or distributed work has a value of more than $2500.
Conviction of criminal copyright violations can result in penalties like fines, jail time, and confiscation of unauthorized works.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Music Copyright Issues?
Music copyright laws are critically important when legally protecting musical compositions and creations. You may wish to consult a copyright lawyer if you want guidance about obtaining copyright protection, licensing your work, or stopping infringement on your copyright.
Your attorney can help you secure copyright, and they can also help you protect it. They can represent you in court if that should become necessary.