What is Musical Copyright?

Mathew Ekundayo - Admin

Ever wondered What Musical Copyright is? Copyrighting your music puts you – as the artist – in absolute control of how your music is used and distributed by others. And more than that, you can actually earn money from copyright royalty pay-outs when your music is used by others.


What is Musical Copyright?

Music copyright is the legal ownership of musical composition and/or sound recording. Every song has two copyrights: the musical composition (music, lyrics) and the sound recording (master). Copyright owners have rights regarding how their songs are used and earn royalties from their songs.

Sound Recording Copyright Vs. Musical Work Copyright

It is important to note the distinction between a musical composition and a sound recording. There’s the music composition, which is the intellectual property of the composer(s) who created it, or their publisher(s). It includes aspects like the lyrics, melody, rhythm, and harmony.

Then there is a sound recording, which is the physical and digital property of the recording artist or recording label that produced it. Each one is separately protected under copyright. In some cases, you can register both parts together in the same filing, other times you must file them separately.

(1) musical work copyrights, which are the songs (referred to as “musical work[s]” in the Copyright Act) composed of lyrics, instrumentation, melodies, etc.; and

(2) sound recording copyrights, which are the master recordings that embody the musical works (a performer also has a copyright in their performance on the sound recording).

Although these two copyrights are inextricably linked for obvious reasons, they are separate business assets that trigger different revenue streams.

Subject to granting an assignment of copyright/license to a music publisher or record label, the author of the musical work (i.e. songwriter) will generally be the owner of the musical work copyright, while the performer of the song on the record and/or producer will generally be the owner of the sound recording copyright (referred to as the “maker” under the Copyright Act). If you are both the author of the musical work and performer on the record and/or producer, subject to an agreement to the contrary, you will likely own both the musical work copyright and sound recording copyright.

It is common for songwriters and performers, as they progress in their careers, to work with music publishers and record labels to commercially exploit their copyrights. At that stage, music publishers will generally own/control (in whole or in part) the musical work copyrights, and record labels will generally own/control (in whole or in part) the sound recording copyrights.

As mentioned earlier, each copyright will trigger different revenue streams for the owner(s)/licensee(s). For example, the musical work copyright can generate revenue when the work is reproduced or performed in public, which includes: performing the song live, performance at events or in businesses, performance on terrestrial or satellite radio, pairing the song with visual images (like a T.V. show, commercial, or movie), performance via online music services (such as on-demand streaming services), reproducing the song through on-demand streams or physical sales, etc.

Similarly, the sound recording copyright generates revenue when it is exploited, which includes: reproducing the sound recording on a T.V. show, commercial, or in a movie (which required a master use license), reproducing the sound recording via online music services or through physical sales/digital downloads, performing the sound recording on terrestrial/satellite radio and in businesses (i.e. “neighboring rights” royalties), etc.


What can be Copyrighted?

Copyrighting your song is a necessary step for protecting your music against plagiarism and theft. When it comes to music, it can often be difficult to define what can and cannot be copyrighted. So here’s what is eligible and what isn’t.


  • Protected Parts  (Unique Works)

1. MelodyThe order and rhythm of pitches that make up the main melody line of a piece of music is considered the unique work of the composer, it is protected. This can extend in part to the distinct melodic lines that also make up the harmonies of a song, referred to as Voice Leading.

2. Lyrics – The collection of words in a song, whether spoken or sung, are also considered the unique work of the lyricist and are protected.


  • Other Parts (Building Blocks)

1. Harmony – The harmonies and chord progressions that make up a song are not considered something we can copyright. If they were, practically 99.99% would be illegal infringement. While distinct Voice Leading is copyrightable, Chord Progressions are standardly used in all genres of music and do not belong to any one individual.

2. Rhythm – In most cases, the sequence of rhythms and “groove” of a song cannot typically be copyrighted.  Just like chord progressions, rhythms and grooves are standardly used in every genre. In some genres, it can be argued that a certain rhythm might be unique and distinct. But if you were to extract the drum part from a number of rock songs, for example, you would notice they all sound very similar. 

3. Arrangement – The arrangement or structure of a song is not something we copyright either. Just like rhythms, song structures are used across all genres.  You can have two songs with the same structure, but they would sound completely different.


Since anyone can claim infringement in a court of law, we see exceptions to the rules above from time to time.

Benefits of Musical Copyright: Reasons To Register

Curious about the benefits of music copyright?

  • Certificate of Registration
  • The Most Effective Way to Fight Infringement
  • Allows You to File Grievances
  • Eligible to Collect More
  • Public Record of Ownership
  • Prima Facie Evidence
  • Importation Protection
  • It Helps Avoids Legal Issues
  • Avoids Collaboration Disputes
  • Saves You Time & Money
  • Leave a Legacy


What is considered Music Copyright infringement?

The creators of original works of art have the exclusive right to control how their works are made available to the public. If you are the creator of a song, recording, story, photograph, video, or other artistic work that was used without your permission, you may have a copyright infringement claim.

Copyright Infringement exists whenever a copyright owner’s exclusive copyrights are violated. The exclusive copyrights provided by the Copyright Act include:

  • Reproduction
  • Distribution
  • Public performance
  • Derivative works
  • Public display

For example, if your music was sampled, used in a TV show, online, film, or commercial, copied, or in any way used without your permission, you may have a claim for copyright infringement.

Anyone who uses a work without the consent of the copyright owner is liable for copyright infringement. This may include a record label, another artist, or even a store that sells unauthorized copies of the recordings and songs.

The Copyright Act provides for a range of monetary damages as a remedy for copyright infringement. These money damages may include:

  • Statutory damages
  • Actual damages
  • Attorneys’ fees
  • Costs



How to Copyright Musical works in Nigeria

In Nigeria, copyright is governed by the Copyright Act, and the body charged with the enforcement and protection of copyright is the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).

It should be noted that registering for copyright is not a precondition for protection. You do not have to register your copyright. It subsists automatically in a work from the moment the work is created.

However, the NCC has established a voluntary copyright registration scheme designed to enable authors and right owners to notify the Commission of the creation and existence of a work.

The NCC justifies the establishment of this scheme based on the following benefits:

  • It provides an independent source of verifying data relating to a work or its author to the general public;
  • The acknowledgment certificate issued provides prima facie evidence of the facts shown on it;
  • It provides a depository for preserving original copies of works notified;
  • The information and data contained in the Notification database offer reliable rights management information to members of the public and prospective licensees to the work.


Need Assistance with Music Copyright? We Can Help.

Copyright is the exclusive right granted by a statute to an author (i.e., an artist, writer, publisher, musician, or performer) of certain works to control the doing of some acts in relation to the said work.

While it’s possible to copyright music on your own, it can be a complicated process when it’s challenging to understand copyright laws. Let us help you sort through the red tape and handle all your music copyright needs.

Register and protect music from theft and plagiarism

1710Media provides the fastest and most affordable way for you to protect yourself and your copyrights. We streamline the process and error-proof your applications so you can avoid making expensive mistakes.

Our service includes the preparation, review, e-filing, and handling of correspondence until you receive your certificates of registration.

  • Register and protect music from theft and plagiarism.
  • We file your application with the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).
  • Our service includes the preparation, review, e-filing, and delivery of your certificate of registration.
  • Receive an Official Copyright Certificate. Valid for your lifetime plus a minimum of 50 years after.
  • Register your songs, albums, beats, lyrics, and other musical projects.
  • Enjoy protection in Nigeria and 178+ other territories.
  • Registration will protect your songs, lyrics & music and will last for the whole of your lifetime plus a minimum of fifty years after your death.

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