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Musical notation on a stage.

Copyright works in a song

A song is the combination of melody and words. Each is protected by copyright: the melody as a musical work and the lyrics as a literary work. One or the other could be used separately and still be protected. In the video Going for a Song, Tina is the author of the melody (composer) and Benjamin is the author of the words (lyricist).

The song is protected by copyright once it has been ‘fixed’ in a form that can be copied, such as being written down or recorded. As we will se in the next step, it has to be original in the sense of not having been copied from elsewhere. Copyright enables the authors to control the use of their work: who uses it and how.

Copyright prevents people from copying the protected work (the reproduction right); distributing copies of it, whether free of charge or for sale (the distribution right); renting or lending copies of the work to the public (the rental right); performing, showing or playing the work in public (the public performance right); communicating the work to the public, including putting it on the internet (the communication right); making an adaptation of the work (the adaptation right).

Copyright ensures that if anyone wants to do any of the things listed above with Tina and Ben’s song, they first need to get permission from both of them. Each of the writers of a song has those rights, regardless of how much or little they contributed to it. Since Tina and Ben are co-authors of the song, copyright in both elements of the song (the melody and the lyrics) will last for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. This is the case in the UK and many other countries, but copyright is not identical in all territories.

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This article is from the free online course:

Music Copyright: Understanding UK Copyright Law When Working with Music

The University of Glasgow