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LICENSE TO LEGAL: Copyright and recordings

27 Mar


Member News

Copyright can be confusing at the best of times. To shed some light, Fran Cotton from the WAM Membership-supporting Ruby Red Legal has created some do’s and don’t’s on copyright of recordings.

First rule of copyright is to ensure that your recordings have the correct copyright notices by avoiding the following classic mistakes:
1. Using the symbol © to copyright your recording
2. Leaving your graphic designer to come up with the correct copyright notices
3. Not including any copyright notices at all
4. Listing the year that you wrote the song, rather than released it
5. Not including the copyright notice on the actual recording (disc or vinyl)

You’ve recorded your album/EP/single. You’re pressing a few hundred copies to sell at the launch party and out on the road. You’ll use them for promo and hand them out to a few friends who have friends at radio. If all goes well you’ll probably do another run. Copyright notices are the last thing on your mind. Your mate, who’s a graphic designer, is handling the artwork.

Classic Mistake No 1 – the symbol © in the music industry means copyright in the artwork. Do you even have an agreement in place with your graphic designer? Who does own the copyright in the artwork? Did you pay for the artwork or did your mate do it as a favour? You may not own the copyright in the artwork so your only copyright notice, which copyrights the artwork, is probably wrong.

Classic Mistake No 2 – leaving your graphic designer to come up with the correct copyright notice is like asking your mother to fill in for your drummer. Your graphic designer may not know who owns the copyright in the recordings, when they were recorded, or that the symbol (P) copyrights your music. (P) is symbolic of the old phonogram records (pre CD days). Today we know them as vinyl.

Classic Mistake No 3 – not including any copyright notices makes it more difficult to prove that you own the copyright in your recordings. Notices put others on notice that you own the rights.

Classic Mistake No 4 – your copyright notice should reflect the year you released the recording because you are copyrighting the sound recording. If you recorded the song ten years after you wrote it and list the year as the year you wrote it you will be missing out on ten years of copyright protection.

Classic Mistake No 5 – not including the copyright notice on the actual recording (disc or vinyl) is like half of the band arriving at the airport without their passports. Artwork goes missing and if the actual recording doesn’t have a notice there’s no evidence of who owns the copyright.  It’s also good to write the notice in long hand because if your graphic designer doesn’t understand the symbols chances are the public won’t either.
For example:
(P) & © 2015 Listen Up Pty Ltd
The copyright in this sound recording and artwork is owned by Listen Up Pty Ltd

More info here.

Article by Fran Cotton of Perth based RubyRed Legal.  For the record she has nothing against graphic designers.   She has specialised in music law for over 24 years and acts for a number of international and local artists including Shock One, Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse, Sarah Pellicano and Jaytech’s label Positronic Digital.   Recent deals include Perth based Voyager’s publishing deal with AMF Music Ltd (UK), Berlin based Must Die!’s record deal with Skrillex’s label OWSLA (NY), CANWA’s “Healing Songs” project and Vanya Cullen’s “Winesong” project.


Government of Western Australia Department of Culture and The Arts Australian Government

WAM is supported by the State Government through the Department of Culture and the Arts, and is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.