Copyright is a form of intellectual property (IP) which refers to intangible creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images used in commerce. IP serves as the cornerstone of protection and empowerment for musicians in the music industry. At its core, IP safeguards the creative expression of musicians, ensuring that their musical endeavors remain their own. This protection is vital not only for preserving the integrity of your music but also for safeguarding your artistic identity and vision.

Copyright specifically pertains to the protection of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. Copyright is a form of IP and is a legal concept that grants exclusive rights to creators over their own original works. In the context of music, copyright protects various elements such as compositions, lyrics, recordings, and arrangements. These rights include the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, and display the copyrighted work. 

  • Copyright in music and lyrics has a duration of 70 years after the death of the last author (in music this means the songwriter, composer or lyricist).
  • Copyright in music recordings has a duration of 70 years after the recording was made (as long as it was published or made played in public or broadcast, if not the term is 50 years).

The PRS for Music has some good advice on this webpage:

As does the IPO and CMU‘s guide here

And here is another!

IP is essential in the music industry for protecting creative expression, fostering innovation, and enabling musicians to monetise their talent while preserving their rights and integrity as artists. In essence, IP is not just a legal framework; it is a cornerstone of empowerment, protection, and innovation within the music industry and so plays a fundamental role in shaping the landscape of music and empowering artists to thrive in the music industry. Read here five ways in which IP can benefit you as a musician.

To explore Intellectual Property and copyright in more detail, we recommend you visit the World Intellectual Property Organization’s website CLIP, which has been built and designed for musicians and other creatives.

Many of the Beatles’ songs were inspired or derived from old country songs or even classical influences such as JS Bach, seen in songs like In My Life, Penny Lane, and Blackbird. Other examples of songs which have drawn from or simply used the creative works of others (importantly past copyright protection) are:

  • Elvis Presley’s I Can’t Stop Loving You came from Berlioz’s orchestration of Plaisir d’Amour
  • Procul Harum’s classic A Whiter Shade of Pale draws from Bach’s Air on a G String
  • Barry Manilow wrote Could it Be Magic with the help of Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor
  • Queen’s It’s a Hard Life, owes its melodic life to Leoncavallo’s Vesti la Giubba
  • Nas’s I Can samples directly from Beethoven’s Fur Elise

But do not directly use or copy another musician’s creativity if the works are still protected by copyright.