Understanding Music Copyright and Licensing


Photo Retrieved from http://www.yeah-music.com

Unfortunately, when it comes to public use of music—despite the myriad of information on music copyright and intellectual property—there are still some who hold the view that public use of music should come at zero cost.

We recently came across a passionate debate on Facebook where a music creator sought to explain to one gentleman the justification for music creators being compensated by way of royalties when their copyright music is publicly played/performed. Perhaps what was most disconcerting as we read through the online discourse, was the gentleman’s view that not only should store owners who publicly air music not be required to pay for music performance licenses, but his statement that music creators, artists and producers should in fact see the store owner’s performance of the musical work as advertisement and therefore should be the ones to pay the store owner.

Despite the absurdity of the gentleman’s comment, it brought to the forefront the fact that more still needs to be done to increase public awareness and understanding of music copyright, public performance and music licenses.

A BBC article explains that copyright is the legal right which protects the use of one’s work, once the idea has been physically expressed. UK-based Performing Rights Society (PRS) further notes that copyright is “a property right that subsists in a number of works.”

In musical works, such as a song which we hear over the radio, copyright exists in two forms—copyrights associated with the musical composition, and the copyrights associated with the sound recording. The differentiation between the two was examined in a previous blog post.

According to the BBC article, “Copyright law lays out a framework of rules around how that work can be used. It sets out the rights of the owner, as well as the responsibilities of other people who want to use the work.”

The following excerpt from the Saint Lucia Copyright Act, notes that “the owner of copyright shall have the exclusive rights to do, authorise or prohibit the following acts in relation to the work:

“ (a)   reproduction of the work;

“(b)   translation of the work;

“(c)    adaptation, arrangement or other transformation of the work;

“(d)   the first public distribution of the original and each copy of the work by sale, rental or otherwise;

“(e)    rental or public lending of the original or a copy of an audiovisual work, a work embodied in a sound recording, a computer programme, a data base or a musical work in the form of notation, irrespective of the ownership of the original or copy concerned;

“(f)    importation of copies of the work, even where the imported copies were made with the authorisation of the owner of copyright;

“(g)   public display of the original or a copy of the work;

“(h)   public performance of the work;

“(i)    broadcasting of the work;

“(j)    communication to the public of the work.”

 As is evident in the above, authorization or permission must therefore be obtained if any third party would like to make use of copyrighted works in the manners listed in the Saint Lucia Copyright Act. For the purpose of this article we will focus on the public performance of music.

According to PRS, “Music is performed ‘in public’ when it is performed outside what could be regarded as the domestic circle or home life. This includes music performances – of live and recorded music or music from TV and radio – in premises from concert halls to corner shops. For example, the composer’s audience in a workplace would be people at work, whether in an office or staff canteen, a factory or the kitchen of a restaurant. A workplace is obviously not a domestic environment and therefore a Music License is required if copyright music is being used.”

“If music is ever played on premises for customers, or staff, for example through radio, TV, CD, MP3 or computer speakers, or at live events, this is considered a public performance,” PRS further notes.

Meanwhile the Saint Lucia Copyright Act  expressly states that the copyright in a protected work is “infringed” by any individual—who is not the owner of the copyright—who publicly performs the protected work without permission or license. Considering that Copyright Acts across the globe are relatively standardized, the  same applies to copyright law worldwide. Therefore public use of copyright music without permission or license constitutes as an infringement and against the law across the globe.

Music licenses grant individuals and companies this permission to publicly perform music. Dependent on the copyright different music licenses may apply. For instance performance rights licenses in regards to the composition copyrights; and related rights licenses in regards to the sound recording copyrights. Collective Societies like ECCO exist to easily facilitate the administration of music rights, licensing the use of copyright music worldwide.








—Post Written by Christine “Chrycee” Charlemagne