Introduction to Rights and the Consequences of Ownership in the UK Music Industry.

This page contains introductory details concerning copyright issues in the UK music business. For much greater details consult the literature mentioned in the body of the text. The subject has been subdivided, for space usage issues, into 5 sections, the links to which are underneath the main copyright link down there on the left.


One of the main things that are traded in the music industry are rights. This may not seem all that obvious to a casual observer, but is of very fundamental interest to any student of music and the industry which surrounds it. Although what we generally see is the trade of CDs and records, or the exchange of performance for a sum of cash, at the root of all this is a trade in rights. It is crucial to know what these rights are for someone going into the music business. Not knowing can be the root cause of being ripped off, and hanging onto as many rights as possible could make a major financial difference to the fortunes of any artiste or performer.

There are at least four rights concepts of interest to us - all of which rely on principles found in the 1988 Copyright Act; performing rights, mechanical rights, phonographic rights, and moral rights. Each of these rights has its own page on this site - use the links in smaller text beneath the main copyright issues link.

Type of Right
Whose interests they work in
Performing Rights
Composer, Publisher/composer
Mechanical Rights
Composer, publisher/composer
Phonographic Rights
Owner of the recording - usually the record company.
Moral Rights

According to copyright law in the UK (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988) copyright automatically exists immediately an original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work has been created so long as its written down or recorded in some material form, such as on tape, hard disc, or written on manuscript.

Before we go any further; it is very useful to learn at this point that there are differences between songs and recordings of songs. This difference is crucial to understanding the issues which surround songwriting, record contracts and airplay, and the ways in which these effect royalties.

Copyright in such works enables the copyright owner to control the following uses of the work:

1. In the case of literary, dramatic or musical works.

  1. copying the work in any material form;
  2. issuing copies of the work to the public;
  3. performing, showing or playing the work in public;
  4. broadcasting the work;
  5. including the work in a cable programme service;
  6. making any adaptation of the work;
  7. doing, in relation to any adaptation of the work,
    any of the acts specified in paragraphs (1) to (7) above.

2. In the case of artistic works:

Subject to certain statutory exceptions, the right to do any of the above acts is exclusive to the copyright owner to the extent that no-one without his permission can do or authorise the doing of those acts in relation to the protected work.

Normally copyright belongs initially to the creator of the protected work, i.e. the author, composer or artiste and this may be sold, licensed or bequeathed wholly or in part in the same way as any other property. However, where a work is made by an employee in the course of employment, the employer is the first owner of the copyright unless there is an agreement to the contrary.

Musical works in normal circumstances enjoy copyright protection in the UK until 70 years after the end of the year in which the copyright owner dies.

Sound recordings, regardless of whether the music is in copyright or not, remain in copyright for 70years after the end of the year of first issue.

Infringement Of Copyright

The general rule is that to do or authorise the doing of any of the restricted acts without the consent of the copyright owner is a primary infringement of copyright.

In addition, any person who effectively facilitates or compounds the effects of primary infringement may be liable for secondary infringement of copyright under the 1988 Act. However, to be liable for the secondary infringement of copyright, the person must generally either know, or have reason to believe, that copyright would be or had been infringed.

A copyright owner is entitled to bring civil proceedings for infringement and to obtain relief in the same way as if any other property right had been infringed. For example, he is allowed damages or he may obtain an injunction to prevent the continuance of an infringement.

No Formal Registration Required To Protect Copyright

Songwriters should remember that under UK law both musical works and literary works are automatically protected from the time that they are committed to some material form - that is, written down or recorded in any way; no official registration is necessary to secure copyright in the work. Notification of a title, as is required from PRS members for the Society's works registration purposes, does not create copyright in the notified work or works.

A consequence of the above is that, in the event of a dispute over authorship, ownership or originality, there is no standard way of proving that one work was in existence before another. There are, however, several ways in which it is possible to prove that a work had been produced by a given date, namely:-

  1. Deposit a copy with a solicitor or bank manager and
    obtain a dated receipt; charges would doubtless be made
    for this service; or
  2. Send a copy of the work to yourself by registered post,
    leaving the envelope unopened upon receipt; or
  3. Register the work at Stationers' Hall where a Copyright Register
    has been kept for many years.

(The fee for the registration of a work or a group of works was 30.00 plus VAT in October 1994.This fee provides registration for seven years; thereafter re-registration for another seven years can be obtained by payment of a further fee. The address is:-

Stationers' Hall, Ave Maria Lane, London, EC4M 7DD.
Tel: 0171- 248 2934 Fax: 0171-489 1975)

NB: Copyright is a complex matter and these notes are not to be taken as anything more than a brief indication of a few basic points. Anyone contemplating entering into an agreement involving copyright in any way is strongly advised to take independent legal advice.

It is very important to remember that, although the rights discussed on these pages are the inalienable rights of the copyright holder, they are also assignable. In other words the copyright holder has the right to give some of these rights to others if it suits them to. Record contracts and publishing agreements are examples of when this often occurs.

A Quick Word About Moral Rights?

I've putthishere because its pretty small and I've decidid itdoesn't need a page to itself. Moral rights are quite simply the right to not have your work messed about with in ways you don't want and to have your name on your work. Basically, no-one is allowed to use your songs without admitting it on their records or CDs - even if they are paying you. In other words if you wrote a song, your name has to be in brackets next to it on the cover and label.

The moral rights code, which was introduced in the 1988 Act, moves away from the economic base of copyright and deals with more abstract concepts, such as the reputation of an author and the integrity of his work. As such, moral rights are vested inalienably in the author of the work during his lifetime, and not in the copyright owner. Four types of moral right are outlined in the 1988 Act: