Music & Copyrights

By: Stephanie of S2M

October 1st 2015

Copyright laws can be extremely complicated but there are many resources online that can help clear up your questions. We’ve dedicated this article to pointing you in the right direction. Keep in mind we are not entertainment or intellectual property attorneys and can’t give you legal advice. However we have lots of experience dealing with copyright questions ourselves and found the information we needed through our attorneys and surfing the web for reputable sources. Before you dish out a big budget on attorney consultations, check out the info and list of great references for copyright related questions.

The very moment you create an original work, like music or poetry, your ownership of that work can be protected by copyright law within the United States, even if you don’t register it. However, it can be very difficult to prove that you are the owner, especially if another party claims ownership. To avoid any complications, you can register your work with the United States Copyright Office to ensure that there is a record proving you were the creator. Although “international copyrights” don’t actually exist, the United States does hold treaties with many countries regarding copyrights. Copyright registration isn’t as difficult as it sounds. You can find the application in the links listed below. It’s also more affordable than other registrations you may have dealt with such as trademark for your logo etc. (trademarks: United States Patent and Trademark Office)


The “rule of thumb” to help you navigate through these rules is if you weren’t the original author, you probably don’t have the right to use it. If you are the original author, you now own what is called intellectual property, giving you the right to earn money from your musical creations.  The United States Copyright Office grants registered users the right to license your work for others to use for radio broadcasts, public performances, etc. As the owner, you are the licensor, and the ones you license your creative works to, are the licensees. The fees obtained from music licensing are referred to as royalties.

Sampling is often a clear violation of copyright law, but there is quite a lot of grey where this issue is concerned. Sampling another musical work to create a brand new sound is quite an art, and for independent producers and musicians it can be a huge struggle. Many copyright holders will not allow independent artists to use their music for sampling. If permitted, the cost factor can be overwhelming. There is no amount of seconds regulating “safe use” without the permission of the copyright holder/s. You may also have to get permission from the owner of the master, and the copyright owner of the song itself. To avoid this issue without compromising creativity, many producers try to make their samples as unrecognizable as possible.

We hope this brief article helps to clear up a little bit of confusion about music and copyrights.  There is a ton more you could learn to help further your career and knowledge of copyrights and how they help musicians, artists, producers, songwriters, licensors, and licensees.  For more detailed information check out the links below and explore

Great References:

“Copyright of the United States”


“Register Works” with the copyright office


“What Does Copyright Protect?”


“How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?”




“How to Obtain Sample Clearance” by Richard Stim,


“Understanding Music Royalties: Five Terms You Need To Know” by Heather McDonald


“International Copyright Relations of the United States”