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Copyrights vs Patents in the Music Industry

Judge's gavel and vinyl record represents music copyrightsa

Copyrights and patents are a major part of the music industry which involves the entire process of creating and recording music. The process of creating and recording music has many pieces. These forms of intellectual property are easily confused, and some audio recording professionals that are under the impression that they are the same. There are distinct differences, however, and we will look closely at how this is the case.

Understanding Intellectual Property

To begin, anyone in the music industry should have some understanding of what intellectual property means. Intellectual property deals with the laws that protect creations. Under this umbrella, there are four types of IP – copyrights, patents, trademarks and trade secrets. Trademarks and trade secrets cover the protection of brands and brand secrets. In contrast, copyrights cover creative works and patents serve as protection for designs and inventions.

Types of Copyrights

U.S. copyright laws define the rights of those performing original works, as well as those entities that promote them. Patents also allow for the right to exclude others from making, selling and using an invention.

Copyrights are referred to as “soft IP”, whereas patents are referred to as “hard IP”. While copyrights can last up to 70 years from their origin date, the right of exclusion for patents can last up to 20 years from the date that the application was filed.

Copyrights and the Music Industry

When it comes to the music, there are two copyrights to consider. First, the copyright pertains to one song or composition. This copyright occurs the instant that the song is written down or recorded. For this copyright protection to be effective, there needs to be physical proof of its creation such as a recording, a digital copy or a written copy. This is why it’s referred to as the “song” copyright or compulsory copyright.

Mechanical Copyrights

The second copyright in this case is referred to as the “mechanical” copyright, which refers to the specific recording of the song. For musicians attached to a recording label, they will own the song copyright, and the label will have ownership of the mechanical copyright.

The Six Exclusive Rights of Copyrights

Those who own copyrights in the music industry have six exclusive rights – they can reproduce the work, distribute copies of the work, perform the work publicly, create derivative works, perform the work that is copyrighted through digital audio transmission, and display the work (although this last right is rarely used when it comes to music). It is not required for copyright owners to issue and place notices on their works, but they do so to inform others of their copyright ownership and to prevent illegal actions such as sampling without permission.

Patents and the Music Industry

In relation to music, patents normally don’t come up for consideration. This is because patents cover creations like specialized instruments and new parts. But in recent years there has been a legal debate that interests those audio producers and engineers who use software and plugins for their projects on digital audio workstations.

The courts have begun to examine if they should exclude software from patent protection. This is a result of an argument made through lawsuits, in which states that one cannot take a human activity that is commonplace, do it using a computer and deem it an invention that can be patented. As a result, there is budding exploration for music patents to have exclusions for those using software to work on music. However, it is important to remember that this carries less weight than what copyrights offer.

Final Thoughts

Future audio producers and engineers will need to have an understanding about copyrights and patents to protect themselves and their artists. Additionally, the musicians they work with might not be privy to this knowledge. For example, an audio producer or engineer might have to use their knowledge to avoid infringing on the copyright of the source song. An example of this is to choose to get permission to do a cover of the original song then work with that interpretation for the new song that the artist wants to work on.

When it comes to patents, audio engineers and producers work with different plugins. Although there are cases currently pending, none of these laws affect the recording studios quite yet. Still, it is important for anyone in the music industry to be aware of patents and copyrights in audio technology.

Want to Learn More?

Being able to understand the differences between copyrights and patents in the music industry is an important tool for those seeking to work within it. Dedicated audio producers and engineers that have this knowledge can guide the artists they work with more effectively in order to provide that clarity for their impending projects. If working in the music industry as a producer or engineer interests you, take a moment to check out IPR and the training that they provide.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production and engineering program and starting a rewarding career in the music industry.