Tips: Intellectual property basics

By | Published on Tuesday 6 March 2012


CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke provides a quick overview of the intellectual property exploited by the music business.

If a new artist wants to give up the day job and focus exclusively on their music, they need to consider the different ways in which their creative endeavours can make money.

There are, of course, many different ways artists and their business partners monetise their creative output, though all the different methods can be grouped into three key areas: intellectual property, live performance and the fan relationship.

Artists might own two kinds of intellectual property – copyright and trademarks.

Artists who write and record their own songs will create three separate kinds of copyright – the copyright in their lyrics, the copyright in their musical score, and the copyright in any sound recordings of their songs. Copyrights are automatic in the UK, ie they don’t need to be registered, the rights exist as soon as a work is created. The ‘music rights’ industry has traditionally been split into two – with the ‘music publishing sector’ working with the lyrical and musical rights (which are often grouped together and referred to as the ‘publishing rights’) and the ‘record industry’ working with the sound recording rights.

Under copyright law, if you own a copyright in a work, if anyone else wants to make a copy or adaptation of it, or to perform your work in public, they need your permission. Copyright owners generally charge for this permission, which is how copyrights can be monetised (assuming someone wants to copy, adapt or perform your work!). Copyrights will also exist in any artwork, photos, videos or writing created by a band. Traditionally the music industry gave this material away to promote record sales, so these copyrights were not monetised – though many artists and labels are now looking into ways to commercialise some of these assets.

Trademarks are a different kind of intellectual property and apply to names and logos (the former of which cannot be protected under copyright). If you own a trademark you have the exclusive right to use a name (or ‘mark’) within certain stated industries. This is important when an artist becomes more established, and may look to turn their name into a ‘brand’ attached to merchandise or other products. Owning the trademark means other companies cannot use your name on their products. Unlike copyright, trademarks need to be registered with the trademark registry in each country where an artist plans to operate (though you can register a trademark for the whole EU via one registry).

Chris offers more insights on music rights through the CMU Insights training courses. Click here for more information.