What is copyright?

The term “copyright” refers to a set of exclusive legal rights given to the author or creator of an original work.  Copyright can cover a variety of forms of expression, such as books, movies, drawings, photographs, musical works, and sound recordings (more on this later).  Generally, copyright does not protect facts, ideas, inventions, or names (which can fall under patent or trademark law).

The owner of the rights in a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to make copies, distribute the work, perform or display the work publicly, or create “derivative works.”  A derivative work is a modification or alteration of an existing work (like a remix).

The owner of a copyright can also grant their copyright ownership to another person/company or grant permission to others to exercise one of the above rights (usually in the form of a “license” or “lease”).  For example, a rightsholder might grant the right to distribute the work exclusively to a digital distributor.  


How does my work get copyright protection?

Getting copyright protection is very easy! Copyright protection is automatically granted at the time an original work is created.  This means you have copyright protection in your new track as soon as you push “record.”  Although it varies from country to country, registration is not usually required but it can be helpful if you need to prove your rights later on.


How does copyright work in music?

Copyright in music is complex as the technology regarding music distribution  has evolved and developed faster than copyright law.  However, as stated above, there are two separate copyrights in a single track--the “sound recording” and the “composition”.  Generally speaking, a composition consists of the lyrics and melody of a song.  A sound recording, on the other hand, is a fixed recording of the performance of a composition.

If an artist is signed to a record label, the copyright in a sound recording is typically owned by that artist’s record label.  Independent artists may own their own sound recording rights.  The copyright in a composition, on the other hand, is owned by the songwriter and/or composer.  Songwriters typically assign or sell their copyrights in compositions to music publishing companies or become members of collecting societies.


What is copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement is doing any of the following without permission from the copyright owner(s): making copies, distributing the work (such as uploading to SoundCloud), performing or displaying the work publicly, or making “derivative works”.  Permission is usually granted in the form of a license.  Keep in mind there may be multiple rightsholders involved, so recording your own version of a song or beat (like a cover version or a remade beat) may still be infringing.


Where can I go for more information?

This help center is designed to provide an overview of some copyright law basics, but copyright law is a complex matter and is constantly evolving.  If you’d like to learn more, here are some great resources:


U.S. Copyright Office --

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) --

Creative Commons --


Disclaimer: We do not give legal advice. The above information is provided for informational purposes only.  Consult a qualified attorney in your area for more information about copyright and your work.

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