One Recording: Multiple Copyrights

By going through this site or you have looked into registering your songs for a copyright, more than likely you are getting the idea that a recorded song or musical piece does not have just one copyright associated with it, but two.  This answer to this question is not as simple as you may imagine. The first copyright is in the words and composition of the music in a song. This is the copyright which most often people think of, or associate with. The second copyright is the recorded version of the song. This is known as the sound recording. So when you record a song, you have two copyrights not one.  Which of course brings up the question, who owns the copyrights of the song?  It really depends.
First let’s deal with the first copyright, the copyright in the words and composition of the music.  The people are usually considered the songwriters of the song and are usually identified beneath the title of a song inside a DVD jacket.  They can be the members of the band who wrote their own songs or collaborated with other songwriters or they could be another songwriter’s work not written by the band.  These people who created, wrote and composed the piece are considered the owners of the copyright to the song. In effect, whoever contributes to the writing of the song has a claim to the copyright. The Copyright Act considers everyone who contributes to a song to be a joint author. It does not matter how much or little you contribute; if you participated in writing the song or recording the song, you are a joint owner of the copyright.
The copyright to the sound recording is different in that it encompasses the medium in which the music is recorded.  Remember a copyright is the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.  So whoever owns the copyright to the sound recording has the rights to reproduce and sell copies of that song in the form of DVD’s, mp3’s etc.   Although all the people involved in recording of the song has stake in the ownership in reality it is the person or company who pays for the studio time usually, through a contract, owns the copyright in the sound recording. If you have a record deal, the record company will pay for the studio time to record the album and the record company will own the copyright to the sound recording. The songwriter will still own the copyright to the words and music, but the record company will own the sound recording. If the band pays for the studio time, then anyone who contributes to the sound recording would own the copyright unless there was a written contract to the contrary.
For a recorded piece of music it can be seen as to why there are two different copyrights for one piece.  The songwriters of the piece of music have the rights to the song where if they have a record company the record company has rights to the sound recording in which they are authorized to mass produce the music for sale to the public.  However should a band re-record a song lets say to another record company, the copyright owners of the composed music and lyrics will not change however the copyright to the sound recording will.
The Copyright Act also states that each co-author has an indivisible share to the entire copyright. This means that each person owns the entire copyright. The copyright is not divided into portions according to the contribution of each author for their part in the music composed or lyrics written.  The owners of the copyright own the entire piece equally regardless of where they contributed to the composition of the song.  This form of joint ownership can sometimes have interesting consequences. For example, each co-author can do what they want with the copyright as long as he pays the other co-authors their pro rata share of the proceeds. One band member can license the song to anyone so long as he splits any money he received with the other co-authors. Further, one copyright owner cannot stop another from using the song in a particular way if he disapproves.
By understanding the basic concepts of how a song is copyrighted then it will help you understand how a copyright is applied throughout the different areas of the music business and how that will affect you as the band who records the music.

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