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Vinyl record protruding from it's cardboard sleeve.

Sound recording rights

By recording their song Tina and Ben satisfy the ‘fixation’ requirement and their original song will be protected by copyright. But when they record their song they also create a new copyright work known as a ‘sound recording’, also sometimes known as a ‘master’. The copyright in a sound recording is different from the copyright in a song in a number of significant ways.

The ownership of the sound recording copyright rests with the ‘author’ of the recording. But this is not necessarily a human author in the usual sense of the word. In UK law the author of a sound recording is the ‘producer’, a legal term usually taken to be the record company that paid for the recording to be made.

So, if Tina and Ben make a recording of their song themselves, they will own the copyright in the recording. However, if they sign a deal with a record company, it is likely that the record company will be identified as the author and owner of the copyright in the sound recording.

The sound recording right also differs in duration from the copyright in the song. In the UK this copyright has a term of 70-years from release of the work. This is potentially a considerably shorter term than the copyright in the song of 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. Somewhat confusingly, this means the copyright in the sound recording may expire long before the copyright in the song featured on the recording. The duration of each copyright may vary depending on the country.

Alongside the sound recording copyright there are also related public performance rights. These can be split into: producers’ rights (usually those of the record company) and performers’ rights (those of the performers that feature on the recording).

Besides being the writers of the song, Tina and Ben also have performers’ rights in their recording. Performers routinely transfer most of these rights to a record company when they sign a recording contract. Although they may transfer control of these rights to the record company, by law they will retain some economic rights in their performances.

This means that when the sound recordings are broadcast or performed in a public place, a collecting society will collect royalties and distribute them directly to producers and performers on shared basis.

You can find more information about ‘Copyright in sound recordings’ here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/copyright-in-sound-recordings/copyright-in-sound-recordings

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This article is from the free online course:

Music Copyright: Understanding UK Copyright Law When Working with Music

University of Glasgow