Legal protection for songwriters
All music made in the UK is protected by copyright law unless the copyright has expired. A copyright lasts for the creators lifetime and 70 years after they die at which point it will be passed on to their estate. Only where the creator does not have an estate for the copyright to be passed on to does it expire. At this point, the piece will go into the public domain and it will be eligible to be reproduced or changed in any way without the need for permission.
If a piece is copyrighted you will usually be able to find a copyright mark (©) followed by the name of who owns the copyright and the date in which it was made somewhere on the cover or list of information. The creator, publishing company or record company can own the copyright to a piece of music. Music copyright only applies to the melody of a piece; lyrics are protected under literary copyright.
Copyright is important in that it gives the owner the right to choose the way in which they wish their piece of music to be used, changed or performed. If you wish to use a piece of music that is protected by copyright you will have to get the owner’s permission first or you risk them taking legal action against you. Copyright is also a protection which ensures that composers will get paid for the use of their work. In the UK, if you wish to use a piece of copyrighted music, you should contact the Mechanical and Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) who, for a fee should be able to license you the piece of music to use legally.
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