Music copyrights and publishing 101

Music copyrights and publishing 101

What does copyright protect?

The area of law that impacts music the most is copyright. While most musicians have surely heard the term copyright before, what does it that you need to understand as a musician?

Copyright protects various forms of creative expression that are fixed in a tangible form. However, when it comes to music, copyright is split into two distinct parts: musical works (underlying composition) and sound recordings.

  1. The composition is a musical work (harmony, melody, etc.) that may or may not include accompanying lyrics. Think of sheet music and words in a notebook.
  2. The sound recording (AKA Master) is a particular expression of the underlying composition, produced and recorded by the recording artist(s). Think of music you stream on Spotify (or wherever you get your soundtracks)

Accordingly, there are two separate sets of copyrights that come with every song: the composition rights and the master recording rights. In the most basic scenario, these two sets belong to the same person — if, for example, you’ve both written and recorded a song from scratch.

How long your copyright lasts

Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional sixty years in India. If you created the work with additional authors, such as a song writing partner or a band, the copyright lasts sixty years after the death of the last surviving author/member. Once the copyright term ends, the work enters the public domain and anyone is free to use it.

What rights are covered by copyright?

Rights Granted Under Copyright Law

  • The right to reproduce copyrighted work.
  • The right to prepare derivative works based on the work.
  • The right to distribute copies of the work to the public.
  • The right to perform the copyrighted work publicly.
  • The right to display the copyrighted work publicly.

How does an author/composer receive his royalty money?

The copyright act makes it mandatory that the licensing of lyrics and compositions can only be done through a registered copyright society, and in India there is only one, which is Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS). Everybody (all broadcasters, aggregators like spotify, Netflix, apple music, youtube) will pay IPRS who will then pay you.

Record label/publisher (owner of sound recording) gets 50% of royalties, rest 50% goes to composer and lyricists.


What is Sync Royalty? What is Synchronization fee?

The synchronization royalty is paid to songwriters and publishers (via a PRO: IPRS/ ASCAP/BMI/SESAC) for use of a song as background music for a movie, TV show, or commercial. A sync fee is usually charged as well which is a one-time fee.

Short for “synchronization,” sync rights are tied to the reproduction of a song when coordinated with advertisements, television, film, or another system.

Sync licenses are very interesting for several reasons. They are less dependent on popular trends or radio airplay, as the music is not purchased for fans to enjoy and stream, but to create a mood.

What are performance royalties?

Performance royalties are the fees music users pay when music is performed publicly. Music played over the radio, in a restaurant or bar, live events, or over a service like Spotify or Saavn is considered a public performance.

Performance Rights Organizations or PROs (in the US that’s BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC, PRS in U.K and IPRS in India), collect author/composer performance royalties from music users, and then pay author/composer and rights holders.

TV royalties are paid by the TV station for the broadcast of a show, film or commercial with your music on it. This is not to be confused with the actual placement of your songs in TV, film or commercials which is a sync royalty.

Other examples of performance royalties:

Radio, live venues, restaurants, bars, elevator music services, supermarkets, clothing stores, gyms, jukebox (yes, these still exist).

Don’t forget that you can also get paid for your live performances.

What are mechanical royalties?

Mechanical royalties are paid to songwriters and artists when music is sold (think CD or vinyl) and also when music is streamed (streaming mechanicals) “on-demand” (like Spotify). Current copyright regulation wasn’t created at a time when services like Spotify or Apple Music existed, (which are kind of a hybrid of ‘performance’ and a ‘sale’) so they pay both performance royalties and mechanical royalties to songwriters and artists.

How does a musician ensure that he/she is not leaving money on the table?

The first thing you need to do is ensure you are registered as a member with IPRS which is the only registered copyright society in India. Secondly, you need to also register your work data which is all the songs, background music cue sheets and your jingle cue sheets. Thirdly, you need to ensure that the set list of your live shows is also submitted to IPRS.

How does a role of a publisher vary from that of a publishing administrator?

A Music Publishing Administrator is responsible for administering, registering and licensing compositions to PRO’s globally on behalf of the songwriters that they represent. A publishing administrator does NOT own a part of the composition, but does all the work in exchange for a fixed fee based on the revenue collected.

Whereas, a Music Publisher does everything mentioned above plus collects royalties on the behalf of their clients, provides legal protection, and provides marketing and advertising opportunities for you and your songs to make money.

Here, a Publisher typically takes ownership of a percentage of your compositions.