“Copyright is the means by which those who make and own creative works (e.g. music and literature) can control who makes use of their work and the circumstances in which it is used, to ensure that the integrity and value of the work is respected.”

In the UK a creation is copyrighted the second it is in a tangible form (e.g. paper, CD, PC hard disk). In many other countries the copyright symbol ( © ) and the year of creation need to be written on the piece. In some countries (e.g. the US) copyright needs to be officially registered before it exists (see below).

In the UK there is no need to register your copyright. However, if you ever need to prove your ownership of the copyright you will need independent third party confirmation that you created it before they did.

How to confirm your copyright


Who owns the copyright?

  • Song – Songwriter(s) – rights often assigned to music publisher
  • Sound Recording – whoever created the recording – usually the record company or possibly the producer if you’re unsigned
  • Printed Score – Arranger/Songwriter(s)


What does copyright mean?

  • The right to make copies
  • Protection from copying/renting/broadcasting/performing without permission/payment
  • Writers can earn money from their work


Duration (UK/US and most other countries – some may vary)

  • Lifetime of longest surviving writer plus 70 years
  • Published edition copyright (for editor and arranger) = 25 years
  • Sound Recordings/Performer’s rights = 70 years from recording date


After copyright expiry work falls into the public domain so for Bach, Beethoven etc. you can use their music for free. But don’t forget if it’s on a recording someone owns the copyright of the recording, and if someone has arranged it, copyright may exist in the arrangement. If you play it and record it yourself, you’re probably safe.

If copying/arranging/sampling or using a copyright piece in any way, you must have permission of the copyright owner.

Exceptions (Code of fair practise):

  • For some educational uses
  • Quoting short excerpts in reviews or news items – should acknowledge writer(s)


So that’s the basics of copyright. Next time, publishing.