CMU Trends Briefing

CMU Trends Briefing: Copyright Basics

By | Last Updated: August 2019

Here is ten step briefing explaining the basics of copyright law, music rights and music licensing. It explains how songs and recordings are protected by copyright, and the ways the music industry exploits those rights for profit. 

1. There are two sets of music rights
So, first things first, let’s start with the most basic point about music copyright: there are two sets of music rights. Copyright protects both songs and recordings. Separately.

Actually, if you have a song with lyrics, that’s two copyrights in itself, because there is one copyright in the words and another in the musical composition. But in the music industry we tend to group them together and call them the song or publishing rights. Then there is the separate copyright in the sound recording, sometimes called the recording or master right.

Most artists these days both write and record music, and many music rights companies have two divisions, a publishing division working with song rights and a label division working with recording rights.

But, despite this fact, most (not all, but most) artists who both write and record music will work with one company on their songs and a separate company on their recordings.

To that end, the music rights industry can be split into two – the music publishing industry and the record industry.

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