What makes a successful musician? Talent, certainly, and dedication to the craft, and perseverance—but an important aspect of being a working musician is the business aspect, and whether you’re interested in that part or not, it’s important to understand how copyright ownership can impact your life as a working musician.
But first—How does a copyright work?
The owner of a copyright to a song has several exclusive rights to the material: the right to perform or display the song, the right to make copies of it, the right to derive new songs from it (such as with a cover), and other basic controlling rights.
Under ordinary circumstances, the creator of any copyrightable work owns the copyright to that work. But, as any producer can tell you, musicians and their craft operate in far from ordinary circumstances, and the reality of copyright ownership is not so cut-and-dried. Let’s look at a few intellectual property forms that can prove to be valuable tools to any successful musician.
Work For Hire Agreement
Bands who work often with session musicians understand the importance of a Work For Hire Agreement—without one, ownership over collaborative pieces could be called into question.A Work For Hire Agreement specifies, right off the bat, who is hiring whom to create what, and who is to own the resulting material.
(In a typical employment situation, the employer would already own the material being created during the scope of an employment—but a musical collaboration is not an employee-employer relationship.)
Here are a few situations where a Work For Hire Agreement can clear up any confusion over copyright ownership before it has a chance to arise:
- A band hires a session musician to create a guitar riff for a song the band composed and perform it on the new album.
- A musician commissions a local songwriter to write a piece for her and wants the full copyright to the song, not just license to perform it.
- A band wants to give their album producer proper credit but not any ownership rights to the production
Essentially, any time a musician or band hires a third party to do any work on an album, song, or product, you can’t go wrong with a Work For Hire Agreement—the music community is a tight-knit one, and the last thing anyone wants is bad blood stemming from a miscommunication over who owns what material.
Copyright License Agreement
Work For Hires work well in some situations—but not so well in others. For instance, if your band is approached by a local business about using a song in a commercial, it’s inconceivable that you would agree to hand over all rights to the song, forever.Luckily, you have other options when it comes to monetizing your material, options which allow you to remain in control of your music.
A copyright license agreement gives a musician the flexibility to authorize someone to use his or her music in a specific way.
When would licensing your music be a better solution than transferring copyright ownership altogether? All kinds of ways, it turns out:
- When you want to allow a local nonprofit to use your song in their promotional material, but only for a certain length of time
- When a movie producer wants to play your song over the credits, but you want to prevent them from including it on the soundtrack
- When another band wants to record a cover of your song on their next album
The list goes on and on.
A copyright license agreement allows you to control every aspect of the use: how long, for what purpose (and for what purpose not to use it), and—every musician’s favorite part—for what compensation.
Cease and Desist Letter
As a musician, you’ve probably found that the best way to reach out to fans and new markets alike is through the Internet. And, as we all know, it’s important to be on your guard when it comes to stopping unauthorized use of your music.If you do find that someone is infringing on your copyright—streaming your album without permission, for example, or selling (or giving away) bootlegged copies—don’t worry: if the thought of initiating a messy legal battle makes you cringe, there’s something you can try first.
A cease and desist letter is used to warn someone that they must stop using your work immediately or face legal action.
Of course, you may have no intention of suing someone. But they don’t have to know that. A lot of times, up-and-coming musicians aren’t interested in fighting a legal battle; they just want the infringement to stop.
A cease and desist letter is, quite simply, a letter asking someone to cease and desist the infringement. (I know; shocking.) A desist letter should include the following information:
- Your name
- The title and a description of your work
- Your copyright registration number (you did register, didn’t you?)
- A description of the infringement (“providing for free download on your website, [URL]” or something similar)
- A warning that should your warning be ignored, you will proceed with the legal action you are entitled to take against them
Send a copy of a strongly-worded cease-and-desist letter (or even a not-so-strongly-worded letter, if you prefer) to the infringing party, along with the party’s lawyer (if you are aware of one).
Do you have any experience with these forms? Is there another intellectual property form you’ve used to secure your rights to your materials? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!