Safeguarding copyrights © TLTP3 1999 & Matt Ottewill

Copyright in a work exists as soon as it is recorded or written down. Composers own the copyright in their compositions unless they assign them to another person (or publishing company) by selling them, assigning them (licensing), or giving them away. However, it is one thing to own a copyright and quite another to prove ownership. Experience has shown that it is sensible for all owners to make safeguards such that they can prove ownership should a dispute over "originality" arise.

It will be helpful if a composer can produce evidence to establish when a work was composed should the need arise, perhaps in a court of law for example. Safeguarding copyrights involves 3 processes ...

  1. Proving authorship
  2. Proving ownership
  3. Enforcement

Copyright / publishing font

Most fonts include both the
copyright "©" symbol and registered
trademark "®" symbol but NOT
the symbol for Phonographic copyright.

Download a sans serif PostScript font
which includes both publishing and
copyright symbols ("c" and "p" on the
keyboard) here ...

download iconDownload font for the Mac (16Kb Zip)

download icon Download font for the PC (16Kb Zip)

1 Proving authorship

In order to establish the copyright, a creator has to be able to demonstrate authorship.

NOTE: It is possible for two works to be very similar without either infringing the copyright of the other, provided that the authors can show that they originated the ideas separately and did not copy the other work.

Here are some ways to prove authorship ...

Witness testimony

If someone witnessed you creating the work they can offer witness testimony in a court of law. Make sure they're credible and reliable though!

Registering works

The new work (published or unpublished) should be registered, as a consequence of membership, with the collecting society through which its use will be administered. If you assign your copyrights to a publisher they will do this for you.

Deposit with an archive repository

Copies should be placed with the relevant statutory repositories, such as ...

  • The British Library in London
  • Stationers Hall Registry (UK), Stationers Hall, Ave Maria Lane, Ludgate Hill, London, EC4M 7DD Tel (0171) 248 2934
  • www.songprotector.com Online composition copyright registration service

Deposit with a bank or solicitor

Many authors and composers choose to deposit a copy of their work, in recorded form, with a solicitor or bank manager and keep a dated receipt.

Send a copy to yourself recorded or registered delivery

Another traditional method of safe-guarding a copyright is to send yourself a copy of the work (manuscript or recording etc) in sealed packaging (a jiffy bag?) through the national post which will then bear a franking mark on the packaging.

2 Proving ownership

Because copyright can be sold (buy-out), or assigned to a company, the current copyright owner may not be the author. In addition to the safeguards outlined above, an owner can do the following ...

Displaying copyright

Click here for in-depth advice on how to embed copyright information.

Click here for in-depth advice on how to display copyright information.

3 Enforcing copyright

It's a sad fact of life that no matter how many steps you take to protect your copyrights from piracy, if you do not have the financial wherewithal to enforce them in a court of law your efforts may be in vain.

Here's are some ideas on how to enforce copyright ...

Hire a copyright lawyer

Money no object? Hire a lawyer and go to court in all the countries where your copyright has been infringed.

Use the Musicians Union

If you are a member of the Musicians Union in the UK you will be eligible for some free legal help and advice.

Assign your copyrights to a publisher

You might also consider assigning your compositions to a publishing company who would then act on your behalf in the case of a dispute. Although this requires very little administrative work on their behalf they are unlikely to deal with you unless you agree to let them take between 10 and 20% of your royalties. Despite these reservations it is still worthwhile taking steps to protect your copyrights in any way you can.