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Legal constellations are of enormous importance in the music industry - especially when it comes to intellectual property and the associated authorship. However, the associated problems are not always so easy to solve. What are the basics of copyright in music and what are the specifics of the system? In this article you will learn more about how copyright works in the music industry and how you can protect your own music professionally (ideally without much effort).
Copyright in music protects the rights to musical works that have been created through the work of musicians or composers. In this way, creators are at the same time authors of the work. This results in special features for both personal use and the associated exploitation. Thus, creators not only have the right of publication, but can simultaneously acknowledge authorship, and issue prohibitions of use as well.
Based on the associated rights, copyright infringement can occur—for example—when content is published or distributed without the consent of the copyright holder. This is different, of course, in cases where authors deliberately permit further dissemination. However, if the copyright holder is not named in this case, this also constitutes copyright infringement. Another case of copyright infringement is the public covering of a song without the necessary permission from the copyright holder. In this way, musicians are using third-party content.
While in the past it was mainly musical plagiarism and covers that gave rise to legal disputes, digital content has already caused much more frequent trouble. Above all, the ease of sharing and publishing means that copyright infringements are on the rise. In many cases, digitalization is becoming a challenge for creators through portals such as YouTube and Twitch, as the distribution channels are far-reaching.
The MP3 music format has also contributed to much faster distribution, making it even more challenging for rights holders to check. Nevertheless, the Internet is anything but a lawless space, which is why online copyright infringements are also punishable and prosecutable. Regular checking of your own publications is therefore of the utmost importance.
Musicians have a good basis for protecting their own works under copyright law with the help of GEMA. GEMA entitles you to charge royalties for the use or adaptation of your own works. If you do not register your music with GEMA, it is GEMA-free and therefore barely protected. If you want to protect your copyright on your own music and keep an effective eye on it, you should therefore choose GEMA as your control institution.
With more than 85,000 members, GEMA is anything but small. In many cases, this ensures strong protection of copyright without musicians having to deal with it themselves. If other artists want to help themselves to the work associated with it, the practical handling of royalties is an enormous advantage. This means more time, as you won't have to deal with the organizational aspects of music, and can instead work on your own art. You can read more about GEMA right here in this article.
Musical rights are extremely important when it comes to the disposal of one's own contributions. There is a lot for composers to consider in order to enjoy the desired benefits as protection for their own music. But what rights do you have as a musician to your works and how can they be enforced in practice? Now we will show you this in more detail:
With the creation of a new work, copyright law takes effect in Germany. For further use or exploitation of your music, you must grant permission from this point on. Even the mere reproduction is included here, since you as the author enjoy the reservation of rights. If there is an unauthorized use of your works, you can sue against the use and claim damages. The only important thing is that the authorship is clear.
An exciting form of limited permissions that has developed due to the influence of digitization is the CC license. On this basis, authors themselves can determine whether their music may only be used for private purposes or also for commercial purposes. These are specific license modules that can be individually defined by you as the composer. CC licenses are an ideal complement to traditional copyright law.
A special feature for authorship is enacted 70 years after the death of artists. From this point on, the work is public domain, making it generally accessible and usable as long as no other companies have already secured the associated rights. As a result, many songs that have come of age are now red-hot again, without the need for royalty payments or consents. In this case, the music is then in the public domain.
The classic exception for the management of musical rights is resale. In this case, of course, there is no copyright infringement, since the purchase grants permission to use or exploit. The extent of this permission can be determined individually in advance. A written contract usually provides more certainty in this regard.
If no specific restrictions are placed on the use of the pieces when they are purchased, the musical rights are unrestricted. Nevertheless, if the legal situation is unclear, it is advisable to ask again and discuss the exact procedures for exploitation. This also applies to cases in which the rights of use were not clearly ascertainable. For example, not every piece that appears at first glance to be GEMA-free can also be used without restriction and without external consent.
An interesting solution that allows the use of foreign pieces is the 30-second rule. From a legal point of view, this is an interpretation of the fair use right, whereby the use of the work is permitted for the said period in a separate song. However, the prerequisite for the 30-second rule is that there is no commercial use. So if you are planning new songs and want to use a template, be careful. The 30-second rule applies exclusively to private and non-commercial purposes, i.e., not to the classical music industry.
To be on the safe side in case of legal disputes, you should protect your music in advance. Ideally, this step should be taken immediately after composition to avoid later conflicts over authorship. If your songs are stolen despite protection, it is important for you to have solid evidence. In case of emergency, for example, you should be able to name witnesses who can prove a similarity. A date stamp on your composition can also serve as legal proof. Additional security is provided by depositing your work with a licensed notary. Even if this seems a bit more expensive at first glance, you will have a sense of security and can prove your work.
Copyright in music is a decisive factor in being able to optimally secure and manage rights in the context of musical works. Copyright plays a decisive role both for your own works and for covers. If you want to learn more about music plagiarism or sampling, feel free to browse through our other blog articles. On mukken you can also find interesting personals for and from dedicated musicians with whom you can exchange ideas.
Originally published on February 9, 2023, updated on February 9, 2023
Main topic: Everybody can sing - this is how you learn it right!