“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” ~ Aldous Huxley
In today’s world, aspiring singer-songwriters can no longer rely on record studio executives to guide them through the ever changing maze of challenges and opportunities that wait for them. They themselves must be alert and attentive if becoming a professional, adequately compensated recording artist is their ultimate goal. There are multiple platforms that they can use to showcase and sell their songs, including, but not limited to, YouTube, SoundCloud, and AudioMack. The value of these platforms is that for minimal upfront costs to the performer, they can expose their music to millions of potential fans and consumers. The downside of online musical platforms is that they are breeding grounds for the unscrupulous to expropriate the intellectual property of the artist. That is why copyright law is so important.
Copyright offers legal protections to performing artists for their creative works. Registration provides notice to the rest of the world that the copyrighted material is protected, and the owner of the copyright is the presumptive creator. Considering the important protection that it provides, obtaining copyright registration is very reasonably priced.
However it is not necessary to formally copyright one’s creative work in order for it to be copyrighted. A work is automatically copyrighted once it is fixed in a “tangible means of expression” and contains a “modicum of originality.” The threshold for originality is not high. In layman’s terms this means the work cannot be the product of someone else’s creativity, cannot be in the public domain, and has to be in a medium capable of duplication.
But to receive compensatory damages because someone ripped you off by copying your lyrics, stole your hooks, or sampled your tracks without consent, your work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. It is also important to note that sound recordings have two copyrights : one copyright for the underlying composition and another for the recording. The copyrighted composition acquires publishing and mechanical rights—the right to reproduce onto CDs, DVDs, records and tapes, while the copyrighted recording confers rights to the masters.
The music industry is littered with tales of naïve artists who were exploited because they were unaware of their rights and unwittingly signed inadequately vetted contracts which assigned away their copyrights. Online platforms are even more precarious. Perhaps more than any other industry, the music industry requires knowledge of copyright law to ensure maximum protection. Whether one seeks a traditional publishing or recording contract, or aims to take advantage of cutting edge online music platforms, it is essential to have one’s music copyrighted.