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.


Guides and lectures from the CMU:DIY education programme…

The CMU:DIY Guide Music Copyright Explained explains the basics of music copyright – and how music copyright makes money – in five easy steps.

The CMU:DIY Guide Music Data Explained looks at all the kinds of music rights data that are essential to ensure music-makers get paid.


Guides, reports and briefings from the CMU Insights consultancy unit…

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 rights make money.

This Building Trust white paper on the copyright safe harbour from CMU Insights and Friend MTS discusses the copyright responsibilities of digital platforms, and how the safe harbour which restricts the liabilities of internet companies has proven controversial and has been subject to reform.


Special editions of Setlist – the music business podcast from CMU – telling the stories of some landmark music copyright legal cases…

The Procul Harum co-ownership case

The Jay-Z moral rights case

The Kraftwerk sampling case

The Prince fair use case

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.