By: Ron Diaz  [2/3/22]

Copyright Law is derived from the enumerated grant of power for Congress “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Copyright provides legal protection for the creators of music, software programs, books, and other types of art and creative expression that is original and is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. For a music artist, this means their original work must be recorded in some way.

Singing in the shower, without it being recorded through some audio/visual means or put on paper a word file, would not leave such work unprotected. Once it is recorded in a fixed, tangible medium, copyright protection is automatic. Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is not necessary until and unless you wish to pursue an infringement claim. (There are advantages to timely registration).

Among other rights, a copyright owner has the right to reproduce and distribute copies of the work, perform the work publicly, and make derivative works. Recently, Congress provided for the right to perform copyrighted sound recordings by means of digital transmission. Most music artists are concerned with two different types of copyright. A music artist could have a copyright in sound recordings which would be a copyright on the recorded performance. The music artist could have the rights to the musical composition and lyrics to a song or either of them individually. Aside from Copyright law, the rights of a music artist are largely determined by the music industry through contracts. Even for an independent artist that eschews a relationship with a record label, there are still contract issues with other creators, including other musicians, as well as producers, engineers, songwriters, and in, of course, streaming services.

In 2019, Taylor Swift announced that she would be re-recording her first six albums. As of December 2021, Swift has already re-recorded and re-released two of the six.

What might make Taylor Swift want to do this? According to reports, while Swift does own the copyright rights to her musical composition and the associated publishing rights, like many artists, the record label owns the rights to the sound recordings. Swift attempted to negotiate the purchase of the rights to the sound recordings, but the two sides were unable to reach an amicable resolution.

Subsequently, Swift’s masters were sold to private equity firm Shamrock Capital. Swift’s re-recording has devalued the older masters since they are now eating into the lucrative royalty stream potential for the current and future owners of the previous masters. While Taylor’s solution to this issue is novel, this is not a new and unique problem for a music artist. Prince, and his name change to a symbol and as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” had roots in a dispute over copyright and contract issues with his record label. Paul McCartney was famously known to be seeking the rights to the Beatles sound recording master rights. Motley Crue had an unusual triumph of securing the rights to their sound recording masters when they separated from Elektra Records.

While it might seem like stating the obvious, having a skilled intellectual property attorney that has the acumen to navigate intellectual property law, contract law, and entertainment law can help you protect your creative rights. This simple celebrity story illustrates the importance of consulting an attorney to deal with the music industry. When asked for advice for budding young artists, Taylor Swift quipped, “Get a good lawyer.” Contact Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig for your intellectual property and entertainment law needs.

To learn more about Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig and how we assist you, contact us by calling 800-747-9354 or emailing clientservices@dbllawyers.com.


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Posted in: Copyright, Intellectual Property

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