Copyright Basics: Part Two

Copyright Basics: Part Two

This is a two-part article. The first part is here.   Welcome back! In Part I we looked at what Copyright is, what rights it affords you and how you can register Copyright in your country. In Part II we’ll take a look at what happens when other people get involved.   Contracts and Work for Hire Like regular property, Copyright can be bought and sold. A relevant example is when record companies own the Copyright in their signed artists’ work. This means drawing up a contract which outlines what the artists get in return for selling their Copyright, and other terms such as whether the sale of this right is permanent or temporary. While the record company own the Copyright, it becomes their prerogative how the work is used, distributed, sold, adapted etc., which is why it’s important to agree how this is going to happen before the transfer takes place. It’s also why entertainment lawyers will always have plenty of work. It’s also possible for new material to be created as Work for Hire. This is common for jingles and other commercial music: it means that, for example, Colgate give you a one-off payment of $20,000 to set the music to the words ‘Whiter than White! Brighter than Bright! That’s Colgate!!’. You sign an agreement acknowledging it was Work for Hire, so there’s no future royalties and it’s up to Colgate to do what they like with the jingle. It’s worth noting that outside of corporate work songwriters very rarely create Work for Hire.   Collaboration Things get a bit trickier once more than one person creates something. If you and your mate Dave write a...
Copyright Basics: Part One

Copyright Basics: Part One

This is a two-part article. The second part is here.   The world of Copyright Law is shrouded in all kinds of myths, rumors and half-truths. When you’re a high flyer you’ll have a team to take care of all your legal needs, but in the meantime it’s worth getting some basic principles straight. First, an obvious disclaimer included at the insistence of my lawyer friends: this is obviously not legal advice. I’m just a guy who writes songs trying to help you all out. If you need proper advice, hire a professional.   Intellectual Property The concept central to Copyright Law is that of Intellectual Property, or IP. It works pretty much the way ordinary property works: to avoid society descending into chaos, humankind developed the concept of ownership. Loosely put, if I own a T-shirt, a ham sandwich or a bronze statuette of Napoleon Bonaparte I’m at liberty to decide what happens to it. I can choose to give or lend it to someone, with or without taking money in return. If someone else does something with it I don’t approve (such as taking it without permission) I’m entitled to object and, in serious cases, even have that person taken care of by our legal system. The difference between IP and regular property is that you can’t touch IP. It’s made up of ideas, creativity and expression. Some people find it hard to equate the value of these intangible things to actual objects, but there’s a really important concept behind it: namely, that ideas are really important. Cast your minds back to the Fifteenth Century. America wasn’t even called that yet. The Black Death was doing away...