Music Law Resource Guide

Music law governs the activities of musicians, record producers, and those working on behalf of recording companies. A number of legal issues often occur during the execution of entertainment deals and other business transactions. These issues include recording contracts, copyright issues, royalties, compulsory cover licensing, and more. Understanding copyright is one of the foundational aspects of music law.

A copyright is a legal instrument that protects original works of authorship. These works include any type of artistic, literary, musical, or dramatic creation such as books, poetry, movies, music, lyrics, computer software, and architecture. After writing music or lyrics, a composer or songwriter can register a copyright that will protect this intellectual property. The copyright remains in effect for 70 years after the death of the artist. When a copyright lists more than one creating artist, the protection lasts for 70 years from the date of death of the last surviving person. The Copyright Act of 1976 was instrumental in outlining a number of rules that pertain directly to music law and copyright. According to this law, music and songs published prior to 1923 are considered to be part of the public domain. This means that these artistic works are no longer protected by copyright.

Copyright infringement is the unauthorized or prohibited use of protected material. Songwriters and composers are common victims of copyright infringement. The artist with a copyright can seek monetary damages and associated expenses from anyone who uses the protected work in an unauthorized or prohibited fashion. Proving copyright infringement involves showing direct evidence of the duplication of protected material. Indirect evidence may also be admissible, such as showing that someone had access to protected material before producing a work that is identical or similar.

The field of music publication is vast, including the development of new music, protection of this music, and promotion of it. Music publishers invest in artists and the music they will produce in the future. Thus, music publishers monitor copyrights carefully to make sure that infringements do not occur. Someone working in the field of music publishing will often assist composers and songwriters with protection and promotion of their music, freeing the artists to create more music. Music publishers may actively register copyrights for new creative works, grant licenses for reproduction of musical scores, negotiate and arrange commissions for artists, watch for copyright infringement, arrange royalties for artists, and move forward with legal action if a copyright is violated.

Everyone who works in the music industry is subject to laws that govern their rights and actions. Music publishers must abide by these laws, as must artists, producers, promoters, and executives. These laws pertain to the terms of record deals, print licensing for sheet music, royalties for artists’ public performances, and more. Anyone who fails to fulfill terms of a contract could be sued for breach of contract, which might involve a lawsuit in which the other party tries to recover damages. Discrimination and wrongful termination are other common issues that can arise.

Attorneys can specialize in entertainment law, which means that these professionals have special expertise in entertainment industry issues such as copyrights, royalties, and licensing. Hiring an entertainment lawyer is helpful for contract negotiations, copyrights, trademarks, labor disputes, and even tax filings. The specific state of residence will determine the laws that must be followed. Many states have not enacted specific entertainment laws. However, states such as California and New York have more need of entertainment regulation, so specific laws are in place in these states.