In terms of copyright you have to think in at least two ways - about the composer and the lyricist - and about recorded music; copyrights effect both.

Composing Music and Copyright

 An individual who composes an original piece of music  – whether a professional with all the gear or a child with their first instrument – owns the copyright to their compositon - as long as it's written down or recorded.

Most recorded music we hear is the product of a group of people – composer, lyricist, performers, recording technicians, recording company, distributor any of whom may cliam rights, licences or contracts for their part in the work. However, digital technologies have enabled more people to produce quality recording without the involvement of major companies and created a new entity of the individual ‘bedroom’ multi-creator who can be writer, performer, producer and distributor.

 For music created by two people or a group the copyright can be shared (= jointly owned).

 There is often a different copyright for the music and the lyrics.

Copyright in music in the UK lasts for 70 years after the death of the composerCopyright in lyrics is the same - 70 years.


Recorded Music and Copyright

Copyright in recorded music currently lasts for 50 years from the end of the calendar year it was released. That means for recorded music you usually have to go a long way back before ‘old recordings’ have come 'out opf copyright' and into the public domain. New legislation in the UK is expected to bring the copyright in recorded music from 50 to 70 years - the same as most of Europe.

 Do the maths! This all means that a recording could go out of copyright well before the music itself. It's 50 years from the date of recording (or very shortly it'll be 70 years) when someone else could copy and disitribute it - but the song's composer could live on a long time - 30, 50 even 70 years - after that date before you could record the song without paying royalties. It could be a long wait!


Establishing your own copyright

 To have copyright you have to have created an original piece of music and ‘fixed’ it in some way – as an audio recording, a video or podcast of a performance or music notation. It is not enough to hum song inside your head or strum it in the bedroom – it has to be ‘fixed’. 

 The UK IP Office suggests the process of posting yourself a copy of the work (CD, memory stick, music) dated and signed across the seal of the envelope and sent ‘recorded delivery’ and when you get it don’t open it! Keep it in case anyone makes a false claim against ownership of your work.

 If there's more than one of you; sort out the joint copyright agreement at the outset - don't wait till it becomes a problem!

 If it's a school project or production then it could published - for example on the school website - with a general copyright for the school though you would still have credit for the bit you did and be able to use it for your CV or portfolio. To take this route the school should have a prior parental agreement from your parent or guardian.

 Numu has good guidance in its Copyright for Music Creators 


Music sampling

 Music sampling is a ‘natural’ outcome of of working with digital technologies in the same way that collage is in visual arts and montage may be in film. The guidance is to work with materials which:

  • are in the public domain
  • you have permission to use
  • are licenced through an ‘some rights shared’ licence
  • or be creative and make (and share?) your own stuff! See for instance CC Mixtr 

Music samples heard on televison, film and in a lot of popular and experimental music are very often licensed from the distributor or owner for a fee - some of which may go to the original creator. Samples used without permissions on tracks by new talent working individually are often licenced retrospectively if the music takes off. Sometimes samples used without permissions lead to a request from the owner to take down (- remove) the material. Bottom line? If you haven't got permission to use it you are taking a risk.


Copyright Infringement

Most recorded music is protected by copyright and is sold or provided - as CDs or downloads - for personal use. Music piracy has been a major issue for the music industry with the use of file sharing websites becoming a new form of copyright infringement in many countries. Many countries have passed laws to make illegal file-sharing a specific offence.


Playing recorded music in schools

The UK's Copyright Act - the CPDA - describes the permitted use of copyrighted recorded music in schools in the UK:

  • Legitimately purchased records, CDs and DVDs can be played in schools for curriculum use and to audiences of children and teachers.  Ripping tracks for any purpose from copyright music is not a permitted act.
  • With PRS for Music and PPL licences (usually from CEFM for schools), recorded music can be played within the school for general, social and ‘extra-curricular' activity. For details about these licences see Section 2 - Licensing


Music beyond the school gates.

 Increasingly schools need to communicate their music activity with others beyond the school itself. Working online provides an ideal method but music online may mean a range of different things: embedded in a website; files shared through a vle; played as part of a podcast; music in on-line radio and broadcasting; as soundtarck for video or flash animation. Offline might mean performances, D/V-jaying or distribution by CD or DVD. If you are working in a location outside school – such as a conference or arts centre – it may have in place a licence to enable the playing of pre-recorded copyright music … or it may not. If you are using music you have created then there’s not too much problem other than making sure you/they have put your/their mark and intentions re copyright and authorship on the work along with any credits to other people that are due. If you are using music that is in copyright and owned by someone else then you should have permission first.


Music on-line

 The position with regard to ‘on-line licencing’ is complex and developing. The PRS for music website indicates the range of different on-line licences that are currently available in the UK for different digital uses of music.

 For more information about on-line licences see Section 2 - On-line Licensing.


Music and Music Copyright Resources

  • numu: a UK-based safe international collaborative music creation and sharing web community for young people with a good ‘about Copyright’ section.
  • Audio Network Schools Licence is available to schools in the UK over the NEN and provides production music at a professional level for video and other media work. All the tracks are original compostions and recordings, so synchronisation rights are ‘cleared’ for creative, curriculum and examination use within schools and through the schools VLE. A one-step process permits use of created works on-line and in performances beyond school.
  • Sound Rights: a free online resource from UK Music about the music industry and copyright .. takes a creative approach to music creation and it’s value in society.
  • Playtime school’s subscription service supported by UKMusic, the Music Manifesto and UK music rights societies. It provides access to a huge catologue of music of all types by the original artists including a lot of classic pop for use - in curriculum activities; within the school premises; via streaming only – but not to public audiences or for downloading or re-use.
  • UK Music - Education creative education and the skills and enterprise agenda.
  • Pro-Music: An international coalition of music interests supporting ‘legitimate use of music online’.
  • ccmixter Online community featuring original tracks and re-mixes licenced under Creative Commons which supports sampling, remixing and mash-ups. Dig’s search tool at helps you search the web for CC licenced music.


Managing music files - very useful 'techie' stuff

 JISC Digital Media provides technical advice of working with, managing and creating with digital media including audio. Made for the FE/HE sector it is probably best used by those with some prior knowledge or with high self-learning motivation.