Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

Having been playing ITM for a few years, I’ve begun writing tunes myself this past year or so. (I know thesession.org is not the place for self written tunes, and I have no intention of putting them up here). I was just wondering - I’m keen to get them online somewhere, simply because tunes were written to be played, shared and (hopefully) enjoyed. So, I’m thinking about getting a free website / blog page (something like wordpress), and sticking the tunes up there.

My question is - how does ownership of the tunes work in that case? Is there anything in particular I need to write alongside the tunes to "claim" them as mine? Is there any official process to go through? I want them to be up there, free for anyone to find and play, but (yes it seems unlikely) if someone did want to play any of the tunes during paid gigs, or even record them… how does that work? Do I need to be registered with the PRS to have any legal claim to the tunes, or is it enough to simply say on the website "these were written by me". (Obviously I’d be very happy if someone did want to record one of the tunes - I’d just want to be sure it was done right so I was credited!). And as a related question - if I was to record any of the tunes later with my band… is there anything I should know?

Cheers!

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Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

You don’t say what country you are in. I’m in Canada and have registered my compositions with two agencies here, one that protects performance rights and another one for mechanical reproduction rights (printing of CDs etc.). (In typical Canadian fashion they recently held talks with a view to uniting and failed to reach an agreement.)

Now I have composed only a dozen tunes over 30 years, but a couple of them are quite popular locally. I was persuaded to register them by friends in a Québec band who recorded one on their first CD and two more on their next. They have been very scrupulous about paying me royalties for every pressing, but of course with the numbers of CDs that folk bands press, the amounts are small. On the last occasion I asked them to donate the amount to a foundation that pays for kids’ music camps.

Since then two of these tunes have been recorded by half a dozen artists (in Canada, Scotland, France and the US) and I don’t expect or want royalties. After all I play dozens of "trad" tunes whose composers are known with never a thought for performing rights. That’s how it should work I feel.

When people are polite enough to ask (not all have been) I just ask for credit and a copy of the record (or 3, if I think I will like what they do). Most oblige, some don’t reply, and one (pretty high-profile) artist who agreed to send me a CD has failed to do so. No big deal. Public performances by trad bands or in sessions? The more the better…

That’s the reproduction rights side. If stuff gets played on radio, I should theoretically get an occasional cheque from the performance rights agency. Hasn’t happened yet and I’m not holding my breath!

The only reason for registering them, in my mind, is the event that some TV or film producer decides they have to have one of your tunes as theme music. About as likely as winning the mega-jackpot on the lottery, but you never know…

If you record your tunes with your band… would you ask your bandmates for royalties? I can’t imagine that, in the trad-music world. I know one folkie band who are professional musicians, constantly touring and on their third CD now, and the member who does most of the songwriting doesn’t want an extra cut. Ginger Baker and Ringo Starr would have been happy if their bandmates had shared all the royalties around like that.

Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

If member Mark M is reading this, he will know. He’s got a fair bit of knowledge on these matters.

Word press is excellent - I use it.

You could put your tunes on your profile page on this site, if you want people to see them.

Sorry, stiamh, just cross-posted with you 🙂

Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

Nae bother Jim 🙂

Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

Generally, in UK and US, if you create an original work you own it. You can sell it or share it you wish. The copyrights (publishing and performance) are yours. Ownership is generally not the issue. The main questions are about the license you provide. If you provide the work to someone else (e.g., by posting it), you can give them a license to use under whatever terms you get them to agree to. You can ask for money, or not. You can ask for attribution or not. Generally, if there is no agreement, the issue gets a bit murky, and it can become difficult to defend your rights in court.

For example, if your intent is for someone to always give you attribution when they played the tune, or to only allow copies to be produced that had your name clearly displayed as the composer, you should get some sign of that agreement before you transfer the copy. A common form of this is the ‘click’ agreement companies require when software is downloaded. I expect if you do this, you will not be fulfilling your purpose of widely disseminating the tunes. If you do not get a clear indication of agreement, it becomes unclear, and the answer can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but generally, you will not be very successful in court (which is the ultimate judge of your claim and damages). You might get someone to agree as a matter of honour perhaps. Your posting could be construed as a free license — and fine print (e.g., your description of terms elsewhere on the website) that no one reads and for which you have no evidence that the recipient was required to read, is hard to defend in court. [The converse is also true. If you download music without getting a clear agreement of your right to use, you face some jeopardy, but there is question whether the owner will take you to court over it. Owners of popular works will go to some lengths to make it known that they retain their rights, which makes it possible for them to often win in court.]

Good luck. If you are seriously concerned about this, consult a lawyer.

Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

Thanks very much everyone. I’m based in the UK, if that makes a difference to anything. And not concerned with royalties - of course, it’s just about sharing music and getting it out there, and I’d be honoured if anyone found the tunes and wanted to play them. Mostly just wanted to check that I’m not doing anything "wrong", since a quick google search had led me to the PRS for music site, which had all this stuff about "do i need a licence to do this?" for so many different things, that I got a bit confused…

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Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

Don’t confuse two separate issues: ownership and licenses. If you created new material, you own it. As soon as the concept leaves your mind and is embodied in sound or in some physical/electronic media, it is yours and is copyrighted. There are a number of qualifications (original, required some effort, etc.), but if is it truly original it is yours. You do not need to register it anywhere (e.g., with a copyright office of the government) in order to own it.

Organizations such as PRS manage the licenses to use copyrighted items. Owners (e.g. artists) can have their stuff covered in the PRS licensing activities, and people who want to use material can go to PRS and buy the right to use. PRS is mostly about money, and manages the payments people need to make for use of copyrighted material for inclusion in performances, movies, broadcasts, etc.. PRS pays the copyright owners their share of the licensing fees they collect. If you are not interested in royalties, then it is probably better to stay away from them. There are similar groups in the US (e.g., BMI).

PRS was referring to licenses you need to use someone else’s work, so that is not relevant for something you create yourself. You are not doing anything ‘wrong’. If one of your tunes becomes really popular or is used in a mega-hit movie soundtrack, you might wish you had preserved rights to some royalties. Those rights are harder to get back later on.

Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

Yes, if you just want to give the tunes their freedom you can put them up on a website for the world to use. if you put if you make it clear you wrote the tunes and "©Joe Bloggs 2016 at the bottom of each, then any time anyone uses them they ought to give you a credit as composer. But if you want to make money out of your work you really have to join PRS For Music (which is an amalgam of PRS and MCPS and collects royalties for both live performance and recordings).

You can do things like posting copies of the tunes to yourself and not opening the envelope (so that you can prove that you wrote the tune prior to someone else’s recording). But at the end of the day, if you aren’t a PRS member, if someone asks to use your tune you would be responsible for granting license and collecting royalties yourself, and if they don’t ask then you might have to sue them for anything you think they owe you, in which case the lawyers will probably take it all. You being a member of PRS also makes life very much easier for anyone wanting to use your tunes, the granting of licenses becomes automatic.

But joining PRS costs money, so you have to think about whether it is likely to be worthy while. If your tunes are so good you think they might get used in TV adverts, or a headline band might record them, then it would definitely be worth joining. If you play a lot of gigs in PRS licensed pubs and clubs then it might be still be worthwhile. Membership costs £50, and the royalties for each gig are about £6, distributed between all the copyright holders, so if half the music you play is your own you would get back £3 per gig, providing you remember to submit a set list to PRS (you also get a similar proportion of royalties when other people play your tunes IF they submit set lists, but most don’t). And of course, if anyone records one of your tunes, the royalties will be collected automatically - if a CD has ten tracks and you wrote one of them you’ll get about 0.6% of the retail price - about 5p for every CD they sell (but those 5ps can add up if their CD goes platinum!)

Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

In my case, I’m in Australia, I’ve registered 4 of my own compositions with APRA/AMCOSS and I get royalties from radio broadcasts etc. It’s not much, although about 10 years ago I got a comparably decent sized royalty payment for one quarter. I never did find out why but my guess is one of my tunes might have been used for a documentary , or maybe a TV show theme. It would be so disappointing to find out it was a clerical error on the part of the collection agency! If another performer was to record it then I would get a composition royalty. Copyright exists as soon as the tune is composed but it’s always best to have some form of documentary evidence just in case. A lot of Irish composers don’t register their tunes and it probably makes little difference in terms of royalties, until as Stiamh points out, a movie/TV show uses it, then it gets interesting from a money point of view.
You might want to always publish "Composed by Naomi …." just to establish your authorship whenever you publish.

Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

"You can do things like posting copies of the tunes to yourself and not opening the envelope (so that you can prove that you wrote the tune prior to someone else’s recording)."

That used to work when the Post Office date-stamped letters, but they don’t do that any more. I think the best you can do nowadays is to ask your local Post Office to put a nice clear date stamp over the envelope closure.

Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

I too have that problem, my solution is to record my compositions myself and currently that project is underway, also i live in Ireland so will register music with IMRO which will protect my rights. Posting to yourself by registered post and never opening same is a good proof for original work as that date would precede any recording or performance by anyone else……….. Having spent many hours composing myself i know and understand just how personal composing is and then the feeling, that you need to protect your creation and at the same time show it off to the world. Would love to hear your music when you get it out there, send me a link sometime

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Re: Publishing self-penned tunes online; questions on ownership and copyright

"Posting to yourself by registered post and never opening same is a good proof for original work as that date would precede any recording or performance by anyone else"

At least in America, this practice, called "poor man’s copyright", is useless, per the government copyright office: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#what