Basics of Copyright Law for Music

Copyright on music isn't comprehensive, it is broken down into multiple aspects such as composition, lyrics, and recording. To use someone else’s music commercially, different rights may be needed to be licensed. These majorly include composition and recording licenses.

With the boom of the internet, a lot of users are violating copyright on music without even realizing it. When you listen to a song on the radio or your mobile's music application, there are two specific copyrights:

  • One for the music composition
  • One for the sound recording

While both these rights are attached to the song, there are different rights because they are often independently licensed. Let’s take a closer look.

What is a Copyright on Musical Composition?

A music composition includes the instrumental music, tune, and the supporting lyrics. In India, most music compositions are created by the composer who works along with a lyricist.

For instance, A. R. Rahman could hold the copyright to the musical composition and Javed Akhtar can hold the right to the lyrics (under literary work) which they can both license.

The copyright for the music composition is created when the composition is expressed in a tangible medium. However, compositions don’t have to be written to receive copyright protection.

More on: What is Copyright? Is Copyright Registration Mandatory in India?

What is a Copyright on Sound Recording?

For a song, the sound recording refers to the master recording of the musical composition made using a particular method, regardless of the medium.

Usually, the copyright of a sound recording is held by the performing artists or the producer of the recording, or both. 

For instance, the performing artists like Shreya Ghoshal and record label T-Series can hold the rights for the sound recording.

Standard Music Copyright Law Practices

Music copyrights usually involve negotiations and transfer of rights between the writers, composers, producers, directors, agents and legal heirs.

Standard music copyrighting in India usually involves two parts. The composer and lyrist retain the rights to the music composition, and the rights to the sound recording are held by the recording studio.

So, if you want to adapt and modify the musical composition you need to seek permission from the composer.

If you want to broadcast the song in any medium (like the internet or radio) you need permission from the record label.

Also Read: Copyright Registration Process and Procedure

Licensing and Infringement of Music Copyright

In India, we have Copyright Societies that help the owner with the collection of royalties and diligence in issuing licenses

  • Phonographic Performance Limited handles matters related to sound recordings.
  • Indian Performing Rights Society deals with the interests of the music composers and lyricists.

Seeking permission for Copyrighted Music

If a person wants to play a specific song for commercial gain or play the song in a public establishment or for any other non-private, then he or she would have to take prior permission from the Phonographic Performance Limited. The IP India has mentioned places which require specific licenses.

If someone wants to make an adaptation for the song for commercial gain or perform a song before a paying audience, then, licenses from the Indian Performing Rights Society are required.

Music Copyright Infringement

If proper licenses are not secured, it could lead to a violation of copyrights. This could result in penalties and damages under a copyright suit or fine and imprisonment under criminal sanctions.

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