Legal information for musicians
Whether you just make music for fun or are making a career out of it, you need to be aware of some important legal issues. The main legal issues in the area of music are copyright and moral rights.
You may find this information useful if you are a:
- sound engineer
On this page
- Copyright for musicians
- Moral rights for musicians
- Music sampling
- Digital music and piracy
- Important things to remember
- Legal tips
Copyright is important because it protects your work and allows you to get money for your work. Musicians have three main rights:
Reproduction rightsReproduction rights allow you to record your songs on a CD, for a film, or to put your music on the internet.
Performance and communication rightsPerformance and communication rights are used when you:
- broadcast music on TV or radio;
- play a song live or in a recorded form; or
- put your music on the internet.
Performance and communication rights are important if a radio station wants to broadcast your music, or if you want to do a live cover of a famous song.
- Adaptation rights
Adaptation rights are used when someone re-writes your song so that the tune is played, with different instruments or when someone changes your song by adding new parts to it. Other people need your permission or licence to do these things.
Every piece of music is protected by copyright, and can be broken down into three important parts:
- Copyright in the music itself
- Copyright in the lyrics of a song
- Copyright in any sound recording of the music
Moral rights are personal rights that connect the creator of a work to their work.
As the composer of music or writer of the lyrics of a song, you have the moral right to:
- be acknowledged by mentioning your name with your work;
- stop anyone else from being named as the creator of your work; and
- protect yourself if your music or song is treated in any way that hurts your reputation.
Whether you are a composer, song writer or performing musician, contracts can help to protect you, and your work.
Before publishing music, or recording songs, make sure that you have put all your contracts in writing. Two common contracts used by musicians are:
- Music publishing contracts
Music publishing contracts are used when someone wants to make your music available to be played by others, such as a recording or a live concert.
- Recording contracts
Recording contracts are used when musicians or songwriters want to record their work with a record company. When someone talks about ‘a record deal’, this is the contract they are talking about.
Sampling is about using a part of another musician’s work, such as lyrics, melodies, rhythms or the recording itself.
Sampling is only legal if you have been given permission to use the sampled material from:
- the owner of the copyright in the music
- the owner of the copyright in any lyrics
- the owner of the copyright in the sound recording
You have sampled someone’s work if it is still noticeable as their work, even if you have changed it.
Making your work available to buy on the internet is an easy way to market your music, while still making sure that you are being paid for your work. But the negative side of this is internet piracy. This means that if you put your music on the internet someone may download and use your work without asking you. This is illegal.
Many people believe they can use materials available online in any way. This is not true. You need the permission of the copyright owner to use material protected by copyright.
If you want to put your music on the internet there are ways to protect your work, such as using low-quality recordings. Learn more about this by looking at: How do you protect your work on the internet?
Music collecting societies look after and manage the copyright of musicians.
For example, if you wanted to sample someone else’s song in your music, you would ask permission from a collecting society. If you register yourself with a collecting society, they will look after your copyright and give permission to people who want to pay money to use your songs. These are called royalties.
Australia has two main collecting societies for musicians:
- Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA)
If you have registered your songs with APRA and someone wants to play your songs live, they will ask APRA for permission. APRA will charge them a fee and will pay you part of that fee.
- Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS)
If you have registered your songs with AMCOS and someone wants to make their own recording of your songs, they will ask AMCOS for permission. AMCOS will charge them a fee and will pay you part of that fee.
- A single piece of music can have up to three layers of copyright:
- copyright in the music;
- copyright in the lyrics; and
- copyright in the recording.
- You own copyright in the music you compose and songs you write.
- Use the copyright notice to show that you are the owner of your work. For example: © Jane Smith 2016.
- You always have moral rights in relation to your music.
- You own copyright, with the maker of the sound recording, in the sound recording of any song you record.
- No one should use your work without your permission or licence. If you give permission for someone to use your work, you can ask for payment.
- Collecting societies can help you to manage musical copyrights and collect royalties.
- Before sampling someone else’s music or using it in a recording, you must get their permission.
- Be aware of the risk of piracy when you upload your music on the internet.
- Even if you don’t own the copyright, remember that you still have moral rights. You must be credited when your music is performed.
- Any contract you make with music publishers and record companies should be in writing.
- Do not sign or agree to anything you do not understand.
- Get legal advice on any contract.