How to Protect Yourself As An Artist: A 101 on Music Copyright & Publishing

Founder Jack Broom has five years experience in the Electronic Dance Music industry, having originally co-found progressive trance agency Evolved Artists. He shared his thoughts on how to protect yourself as an artist for IMS.

Many producers and artists in dance music don’t ‘get’ what copyright is – it’s something for Radiohead, Taylor Swift and far too complicated or too time consuming.  In fact, copyright is just as critical to dance music producers, artists, singers and songwriters.

Copyright is ‘intellectual property’ so your tracks are as much yours as something physical like a house, car or mixing desk.

“Copyright of a musical work begins automatically once a piece of music is created and documented or recorded. In the UK, this is detailed in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.” – PRS Music

If you are a producer of your own tracks then you have a number of  copyrights to protect:

  • The Master Rights  – which you sign to a record label
  • The Neighbouring Rights  – which you assign to PPL or equivalent
  • The Performing Rights and Mechanical Rights which are assigned to a Performing Rights organisation such as PRS / MCPS in the UK and to a publisher to track royalties, search for sync ad create collabs.

Lets look at each in turn, how to protect yourself and how to earn income;

Master Rights

The owner of the Master Rights owns the actual recording of the song’s sound. These rights usually belong to the party that financed the recording. Often this is the record label if they don’t lie with the artist. It allows permission for the licensee to use the recording for a particular project.

Neighbouring Rights – are a form of copyright linked to commercially released recordings. A commercially released record is when a record is played out on radio, TV or performed in public such as a bar, nightclub, restaurant or shops a royalty is then due to both the owner of the master recordings (usually a record label) and the performing artist. A performing artist usually includes any instrumentalists, producers and vocalists.

Click here to find out more on the legal structure, how to find out as a creator what works of yours are eligible for collection and how those collection are made.

Performing Rights – are the right to perform music in public, it is part of copyright law and demands payment to the music creator/composer/lyricist and publisher.

Mechanical Rights –
is the right to reproduce a piece of music onto formats such as digital, CD’s, DVD’s, vinyl or tapes.

Royalties from Performing Rights & Mechanical Rights

The royalties are generated each time the creators works are broadcast or performed live in places such as bars, cafes, clubs, offices, radio, restaurants, shops, streaming and TV. Also from mechanical rights the digital or physical sales of your music. If you have a publisher they will also look at other ways to increase the value of your music.

Click here to watch a short introductory video on An Introduction to Music Publishing from Sentric

How Do I Go About Protecting My Music?

Within the dance music community  some may remember at the back-end of 2017 the Tennan vs Mihalis Safras saga in which Tennan had sent music to Mihalis Safras label only for it to be rejected and subsequently for Mihalis Safras to go on to use parts of the track without his permission on his own production with no accreditation to Tennan whatsoever. This resulted in a number of other producers coming out to echo Tennan’s experience and a long drawn out public relations mess across social media ensued. In these types of situations you may not be able to avoid individuals who decide they are going to copy or use parts of your music, however there are ways to protect yourself and also begin receiving income from your music whilst you are starting out. Also laying the foundations earlier on in your career will benefit you in the long run.

The first thing you can do is register with a royalty collection society such as PRS for Music (UK), PPCA (Australia) GEMA (Germany), SIAE (Italy), BUMA/STEMRA (Netherlands) ASCAP (USA) or the relevant one in your domestic country would be ideal, although you may prefer to register with another collection society.

Follow this link – https://www.prsformusic.com/our-global-network and scroll down the page to reveal a comprehensive list of royalty collection societies PRS works with across the world.

** Please note – This list is not an exhaustive list of royalty collection societies out there, however it is a good place to start when looking for the relevant ones in your respective territory.
In the past we have encountered objections from artists about registering with a royalty society;

1.) They do not understand how the collection system works for their respective domestic societies. This means they do not feel they can see where the money will come from.

2.) A lot of the societies charge membership fees e.g. PRS Music membership is £100GBP, therefore they cannot justify committing such a cost as they would rather invest in software, hardware, artist start up costs such as logo, press shots, branding and social media advertising in the earlier stages of their career.
3.) A lot of societies around the world are known to be corrupt, disorganised or an inability to deliver the artists royalties, there is a lack of trust or belief from the artist they will ever receive any money or see value from their respective society.
To sum up there is a general lack of faith trust and understanding from creators about the  added value in registering with a royalty collection society or even looking further and finding a publisher.

The question you may ask yourself, is there anything else I can do to protect myself if I am not registered with a royalty collection society? The answer is yes.


Publishing

A publisher will act as protection for music works you create. From company to company there is a varying range of different services publishers offer and also what their publishing deals entail.


The business of music publishing is concerned with developing, protecting and valuing music.” – Music Publishers Association

A publisher will source new songwriters and producers (composers), once signed the publisher will perform a range of services such as;

1.) Register the works of the songwriters and composers (unreleased and released) with all the relevant royalty societies and agencies (as mentioned earlier in this article) – this acts once again effectively like a date stamp protecting the artists works.
2.) Using their expertise and networks they will look to secure commissions for work such as adverts, TV shows, movies, games – these types of works are called syncs or synchronisations. which are more likely to occur prior to the artist signing music to a label as those looking for commissions for their respective projects prefer unheard or unreleased music.
3.) Finding and responding to new licensing opportunities for your work.
3.) Provide you with advice and guidance as well as access to recording facilities and in some cases financial investment for the advancement of your music career.
4.) Collect royalties on behalf of the songwriters and composers from the international royalty societies and agencies from across the world. The difference between a publisher and a royalty collection service is the publisher has more of an incentive to collect effectively as they are privately run organisations with a motive to earn profit whereas organisations such as PRS are not-for profit.
5.) Make payment to songwriters and composers based on usage of their music from a range of sources from agencies and societies and organisations like Songkick.
6.) Navigate the complexities of rights management and take action against anyone using your music without the required license or permissions.

** Please note – The above is not an exhaustive list but rather the main areas of service the majority of publishers will provide to songwriters and composers.

Based on what I have found out during this period, I would recommend artists to look into finding a publisher. However very much like looking for a booking agent, manager or record label do not settle for any old publisher.

How To Look For A Publisher

Consider the following when looking for a publisher;

1.) What artists and clients do they represent? For example, do they have experience in looking after house music artists, techno artists, trance artists, hip hop, EDM, Pop?
2.) Do they have experience with clients in your respective music genre? If you are house producer you might want to see if they have connections with reputable labels such as Defected, Elrow, Suara, Toolroom or other labels you are aiming to release on. Outside of dance music you might want to see their connections with reputable corporate brands or gaming companies.
3.) What services do they offer? Royalty collection only? Synchronisations (syncs)? Neighbouring Rights? Record label rights management services?
4.) The terms of the deal – the usual percentage should be around 20% – 30% of royalties earned, although  it will vary from territory to territory. It is advisable to try and secure a deal with the option to give a month’s notice for termination of the deal or some kind of flexibility to the deal especially if it is your first ever publishing deal. Avoid being tied in to long-term deals unless you know and trust the publisher.

Also other general advice, guidance or tips I would recommend when looking for a publisher (or even a booking agent, artist manager or label);

1.) No question is a silly question – try to find out as much as possible, asking questions in itself may tell you all you need to know about the publisher i.e. if they are unhelpful or seem to lack the answers it would suggest they will not be equipped to deal with your needs.
2.) Make a list of publishers prior to contacting them – use google to search for ‘music publishers’ or ‘dance music publishers’ or whatever suits your personal requirements of a publisher.

Here are a few links to help you get started with your search;

Music Publishers Association – https://mpaonline.org.uk/membership/member-directory/

Songwriter Universe – http://www.songwriteruniverse.com/publisherlist.htm


3.) Once you have a list, decide upon a top three and contact the benchmark publisher first explaining who you are, your background and what you are looking for with a publisher and look to set up a meeting or phone call.
4.) Prepare questions – even if it is as simple as getting them to explain publishing and walk you through a step-by-step demo of the how their service would work for you and your individual situation.
5.) Ask if they have different publishing deals and find out which deal would be best suitable for your needs.
6.) Due diligence – contact some of their other artists or clients to see how they have found working with them.

Article written by Jack Broom, founder of 1712 Artists