Ownership of music and lyrics can be a bit of a headache, but here are some key points that you should know when recording that masterpiece.

How do I copyright my music

There is no registration procedure for copyright, it is free and automatically applies as soon as your material is recorded in some form, whether that is written down, recorded onto a disc, or saved as a digital file. This means your jam session with mates or 5 minute freestyle rap about that burger you had for lunch isn’t covered UNLESS someone pressed record before you started- It has to exist in some kind of tangible form.

Do I need to join APRA/ AMCOS?

Members of the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) are required to register their composition, which doesn’t create copyright but does allow APRA to collect licence fees for any public performances of the music and then identify who is entitled to the payments- If that’s you, you want them to know about it.

If you have registered your songs with the Australian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS) and someone wants to make a recording of one of them, they will need to get permission from AMCOS who will charge them a fee and pass some of that onto you.

What does that (c) symbol actually mean?

A good idea is to put a copyright notice on your work, formatted as the (c) symbol followed by the name of the owner and the year of first publication. This doesn’t actually affect the copyright and there is no formal procedure, but it reminds people that it’s protected and makes it easier to track you down if someone wants to pay big bucks to use your track (it could happen).

How do I know who owns it?

This can be deceptively confusing. As a general rule, the person who writes the music and lyrics owns the copyright of what they have written. If it’s a collaboration each person involved will own a share of the copyright- Just note that someone who makes suggestions for words to lyrics won’t usually own any of the copyright, there needs to be a deeper involvement in the creation. It may sound unnecessary but it’s recommended that an agreement on how the copyright is shared between band members gets written down from the beginning, which can make things easier down the track. Problems can arise if a band member who contributed to the song writing leaves and is not willing to give permission for the band to continue using the songs- In this case there are a few possible scenarios but your best bet would be to get some legal advice for your situation.

What about the recording?

It may sound like a Confucious quote, but bear with me: The copyright in a recording is separate from the copyright in whatever is on that recording.

Generally speaking the owner of copyright in a sound recording is the person who owns the recording medium, so the tape, CD or iPhone (or whatever was used to record the music on). This means that if one band member brings a blank CD that is used to record onto, that person will own the recording on that CD along with the performers. A different rule applies if an audio engineer is paid to make a recording, in which case the person who commissioned (paid for) the recording will own it.

If you need any further information on music copyright in Australia some good resources are the APRA AMOS website (http://www.apraamcos.com.au/) and also the Australian Copyright Council website (http://www.copyright.org.au/acc_prod/ACC/Browse_by_What_You_Do/Musicians___Bands.aspx)