Music Copyright

Resources about music copyright


Copyright is a legal concept that exists in most countries and which gives creative people control over the output of their creativity. Music rights include the distinct copyright in songs and recordings.

Copyright protects various different kinds of creative work. UK copyright law specifically protects literary works, dramatic works, musical works, artistic works, recordings, films, broadcasts and typographical arrangements.

From a music industry perspective, we are mainly concerned with the copyright that protects songs (so lyrics, composition, beats and melody together) and the separate copyright that protects recordings.

Because copyright law treats songs and recordings separately, so does the music industry. There are two strands of the music industry both focused on music copyright: the music publishing sector and the record industry.

The music publishing sector is focused on the song rights (aka publishing rights or author rights). The record industry is focused on the recording rights (aka master rights or phonographic rights).

Copyright also protects artwork, illustrations and photos – these are artistic works. Obviously the music industry creates lots of these too.

These visuals are often used when marketing songs and recordings. But they can also be directly monetised through merchandise.

A copyright owner has control over their creative work in a number of distinct ways, including the reproduction of their work; the distribution or rental of any copies; the adaptation of their work; or the performance, communication or making available of their work to the public.

So there is the reproduction control, the distribution control, the rental control, the adaptation control, the performance control, the communication control and the making available control.

The basic rule of copyright is this: if any else wants to reproduce, distribute, rent, adapt, perform, communicate or make available someone else’s copyright protected work, they have to get permission from the copyright owner. The copyright owner would usually charge for this permission – aka licensing – and that’s how copyright makes money.

In the music industry, artists and songwriters usually work with business partners – like record labels and music publishers – to monetise their rights. There are also the collecting societies that actually issue the licence and collect the royalties in various different scenarios.

Artists and songwriters often don’t own or control the copyright in their music, because they have allowed a business partner to have ownership or control. Nevertheless, creators may still have moral rights over their work, and performers have separate performer rights.

You will find coverage of all the key developments in, debates regarding and disputes involving music copyright in the Legal section of CMU.


The Music Copyright Explained Guide from CMU Insights and the UK’s Intellectual Property Office provides a comprehensive beginner’s guide to how music copyright works and how music copyright makes money.

This CMU:DIY Lecture also talks through the basics about music copyright, telling artists and songwriters the key things they need to know.

The CMU Trends Guide To Music Rights goes through everything in a little more detail, explaining the basics of copyright law, the ins and outs of music licensing, and how the music rights industry makes money.

There are also a number of CMU Trends Ten Step Guides covering music copyright topics – including guides on music copyright basics, music copyright jargon, collective licensing, music rights data, artist and songwriter rights, and sync licensing.

There are also Setlist Specials that talk through a number of landmark music copyright legal cases, including the Procul Harum co-ownership case, the Jay-Z moral rights case, the Kraftwerk sampling case, the Prince fair use case, and the Blurred Lines song theft case.


Music Copyright Explained Guide

CMU:DIY Lecture: Music Copyright Explained

CMU Trends Guide To Music Rights

CMU Trends In Ten: Music Copyright Basics

CMU Trends In Ten: Music Copyright Jargon

CMU Trends In Ten: Collective Licensing

CMU Trends In Ten: Music Rights Data

CMU Trends In Ten: Artist And Songwriter Rights

CMU Trends In Ten: Sync Licensing

Setlist Special: Procul Harum take it to the Lords

Setlist Special: The Jay-Z moral rights case

Setlist Special: The Kraftwerk sampling case

Setlist Special: Prince and the dancing baby

Setlist Special: The Blurred Lines song-theft case


Intellectual Property Office is the official UK government body responsible for intellectual property rights including copyright.

WIPO is a specialised agency of the United Nations focused on intellectual property rights including copyright.

British Copyright Council brings together organisations representing all the copyright industries and provides a forum for discussion about copyright law and related issues at a UK, European and international level.