Music Copyright: Music Publishing Simplified

Music Copyright
Music Copyright

Earlier this year, Anara Publishing joined forces with the Indian office of their sister company Horus Music to present a series of Instagram Live events entitled “Music Publishing Simplified.” We know that for independent artists, especially in India, the world of music publishing isn’t easily accessible so that’s why we decided to put together this series of sessions to break down things in easy to digest chunks. If you missed the live sessions, we’re recapping each of them in a dedicated blog.

The Music Publishing Simplified sessions were hosted by Deepa Seshadri and Deborah Smith. Deepa currently works for Horus Music India on business development. Horus Music offers bespoke digital distribution services which allow musicians and labels to sell and release their content and was established in the U.K in 2006. Since 2016, Horus Music has had a presence in India. Debs is the director of Anara Publishing in the U.K. Debs started working at Horus Music in 2012, and then launched Anara Publishing with CEO Nick Dunn in 2017. Anara offers a whole suite of music publishing services to their roster, including admin, sync licensing, A&R and writing camps.

In this session, we take a look at music copyright but it’s worth noting that this blog doesn’t constitute legal advice. The aim of this session is to give a basic overview, but for anything relating to your IP and your copyright, you should consult a lawyer directly.

Catch up on Music Copyright on Horus Music India’s IGTV and scroll down for an overview of the session.



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How do you define copyright?

Copyright essentially designates legal ownership of something, which in a broad sense, fits into four categories of works: literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic. As a music creator it is worth noting that there’s copyright in your composition, lyrics, and artwork. A work is considered copyrighted once it’s in a tangible form (for example, a recorded song, not just an idea in your head). Copyright varies from country to country. For example, in India, you can apply for a copyright certificate from the Copyright Office (this is advisable at the time of writing a song). Some people also mail themselves a copy of a recording and/or their lyrics as proof of ownership. If you do this, you should keep the envelope unopened in case you need to use it in a future copyright dispute.

How long does copyright last? Is this the same in every country?

Copyright varies per country. In India, copyright of a song is valid for life of the author plus 60 years after they die. In some countries this could range from 50 – 100 years. In Mexico it’s 100! It is important to check the copyright term in the country in which you are writing the song.

What are your rights as a copyright owner?

As a copyright owner, you have the right to reproduce (copy) the work, the right to distribute the work, the right to public performance or communication to public, the right to make derivative works or adaptation of the work and the right to make a sound recording of the work.

What’s the difference between a composition and a sound recording?

These are both two different types of copyright, meaning there’s potentially two different copyright owners (or more!). The publishing deals with the composition, whereas the label and distributor deal with the sound recording.

How do you monetise your copyright?

This is a topic that we explored in the previous two sessions on Music Publishing v Music Distribution and Why Should I Register With A PRO. Copyright can be monetised via exploiting the composition (PROs and publishing), the sound recording (distribution) and sync licensing. Sync licensing will be discussed in further detail within the next blog.

What happens when you collaborate with someone else on a song?

When you collaborate with others, it is important that all parties agree on the % split of the compositional copyright. For the composition this can be done via a song split sheet, see article here (link to song split sheet article). It is worth thinking about which creatives contributed to the composition and sound recording, as these are both separate agreements.

Is it good enough to have a verbal agreement between each other that you each own 50% of the song, for example?

No! Even if you’re best friends, this is not a good idea. A contract/co-writing agreement must always be signed as proof of copyright. Sometimes, songwriters can find this conversation difficult to have, so make sure you get it out of the way sooner so everyone is on the same page!

What about when a brand or production house asks you to create an original song?

This completely depends on your contract with them, so it is always worth asking the question at the start of the process just in case there is any confusion that needs to be cleared up. Sometimes, when a company employs you to create a piece of music, this is referred to as a “work for hire” where the company will own the copyright. It basically means that you’ve been hired to write the song for a fee.

What considerations do you need to take if you sample someone else’s music?

Regardless of whether you’ve changed the pitch, edited the sample or chopped it up, it is still someone else’s copyright! You must get permission from the original copyright owner and negotiate a % that they will own in your song for the usage of the sample.

What about these “royalty free” websites where you can download beats or backing tracks to use in your songs?

It is always worth checking the terms and conditions on these websites as they all vary, and the original creator of the beat/loop may still need to be credited as a co-writer. The best practice is to do your research and not take things at face value as each website will have different terms. It is also worth noting that they will be both composition and sound recording copyrights in these loops, so they may own more than one copyright.