How does music ownership work? Who owns what when it comes to wrtiting, recordings, publishing, royalties, etc? The Taylor Swift case makes me bring this up.


How does music ownership work? Who owns what when it comes to wrtiting, recordings, publishing, royalties, etc? The Taylor Swift case makes me bring this up.

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If you make something, you own it.

If someone pays you to make something, you still own it.

If someone enters a contract with you to make something, the contract specifies who owns what when.

In the case of popstar singers, it’s complex because different people get in at different times and enter contracts for different pieces of the pie.

If a singer is in a contract to make music for a studio, the studio probably owns it. If they pay someone to distribute it, the studio still owns it, but the distributor then would be taking a fraction of the sale.

Etc. It all depends on the contract.

Basically, the person who writes the song owns the copyright, much as you might expect. They can sell that right and withhold or grant the right to perform the song.

The singer of a song gets something that is like copyright called a performer’s right.

So if Gaga writes a song and Taylor Swift performs that song and you buy an mp3 of it, Gaga gets paid for the copyright for the song and Taylor gets paid for the performer’s right for the recording.

This is a huge quagmyre of legal works that even the most experienced copyright lawyers dreads to get into each time. The basis of this is the copyright laws which limits who is allowed to make copies of creative works. By default only the creator have the right to copy his own works but this right can be granted to others. This is where you tend to see contracts specifying various fees for someone else to be allowed to copy a work. But one problem is that a recording of a musical performance is more then one creative work. You have the song as could be written on the sheet music and you have the artists performance of this song. The later is a copy of the first as well as a creating work on its own. So in order to play a cover of a song you need the right to copy the song but in order to copy a recording of a song you need a different right for that specific recording. These can be handled by different organizations and you may end up paying fees to different people.

The Taylor Swift case however was due to another issue with the current laws. And that is that it does not specify in detail what the requirement for something being called “creative work” is. The complaint was that a specific ostionado from a previously recorded hit song had been copied and slightly altered when writing the music performed by Taylor Swift. The specific “work” in question consists of eight notes and they are not even identical in the two music pices. The defense did show that similar works have been used in music since the early days of the music industry. They therefore claimed that it was common for music composers to come up with this even without having to copy others. Copyright laws only protects copies and not independent creative works so two people are allowed to create identical works as long as they do not copy each other and both have exclusive rights to copy their versions. And this is what the lawyers argued as they claimed that the “creative work” in question was so trivial that it would not constitute as such and that their composers came up with it completely independently. However they lost the case. And this is a landmark case because it sets a precidence for what should be considered “creative works”. Even while the case was ongoing people were releasing music compilations containing all the combinations of notes that would be in the same category of creative works. The creators of this compilaton could use the exact same arguments as used in this case and refer back to the judgement of this case in order to win lawsuits for breaching the copyright laws against any musical composer. Thankfully they have granted everyone in the world the rights to copy their works which also means that if a future lawsuit are to take place involving any such trivial pieces of music the defendent could just claim to have copied the music from the compilation which would win the lawsuit.