“Are song names copyrighted?” – a question that’s confounded many musicians, lyricists, and even passionate music enthusiasts over the years.

We’ll be doing just that, breaking down complex legal jargon into easily digestible bites of information.

So, whether you’re penning your next hit song, trying to avoid legal entanglements, or simply nurturing your intellectual curiosity, this blog post is your ticket to understanding the intricacies of song name copyrighting.

Stay tuned as we unravel this compelling conundrum together!

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Copyright Protection for Songs – Are Song Names Copyrighted?

Copyright protection plays a fundamental role in the music industry.

It safeguards the rights of artists, composers, lyricists, and music publishers, ensuring they are duly compensated for their creative endeavors and protecting their work from unauthorised usage.

When you hear a song on the radio, you’re hearing a combination of these two copyrights working in harmony.

The musical composition copyright, also known as the ‘songwriting’ copyright, belongs to the songwriter(s) who crafted the melody and lyrics.

This copyright begins the moment the song is fixed in a tangible form, such as when it’s written down or recorded.

The sound recording copyright, on the other hand, is attributed to the artist who performs the song and/or the entity that produced the recording (often a record label).

This copyright applies to the specific arrangement and production of the musical composition.

Interestingly, song titles cannot be copyrighted.

While this might seem counterintuitive, it’s based on the notion that law protects expressions of ideas, not the ideas themselves, nor short phrases like titles or names.

This is a simplified explanation of a complex legal framework, and there are many exceptions, limitations, and intricacies.

Do Famous Songs have Copyright Protection?

Indeed, famous songs are under protection, just like any other original musical composition.

In fact, the significance of protection becomes even more pronounced when it comes to famous songs due to their widespread commercial use and potential for generating significant revenue.

For famous songs, both the musical composition (including lyrics) and the sound recording have their respective copyrights.

The former generally belongs to the songwriter(s) or their publisher, while the latter is typically held by the performing artist(s) or their record label.

When a song becomes famous, its reach often expands across various forms of media such as movies, advertisements, and television shows.

For any such commercial usage, permission must be obtained from the holders through a process called licensing.

This ensures that the rightful owners of the song are duly compensated.

In the United States, for songs written on or after January 1, 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.

For works of corporate authorship or works made for hire, the duration is 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first.

It’s always advisable to consult with a legal expert to understand the specifics of any copyright-related matters.

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Exclusive Rights of Song Copyright Owners

The owners of a song’s copyright are endowed with certain exclusive rights, which form the basis of the  protection framework.

These exclusive rights typically include:

Reproduction Rights

The right to make copies of the copyrighted song in different formats. This could include sheet music, CDs, digital downloads, or any other format in which the song might be reproduced.

Distribution Rights

The right to distribute copies of the song to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending.

Public Performance Rights

The right to perform the copyrighted song in public – this could be a live performance, playing a recording over the radio, or streaming online.

Related Article: Performers Rights Copyright

Derivative Works Rights

The right to create new works based on the original copyrighted song. These could include remixes, samples, or adaptations of the song.

Public Display Rights

This right is more relevant to other forms of copyright like visual arts and literary works. For music, this could apply to the display of lyrics or sheet music.

Consequences of Song Copyright Violation

Violation of song copyright, often referred to as infringement, can lead to serious legal and financial consequences.

This infringement typically occurs when a copyrighted song or a part of it is used without obtaining the necessary permission or license from the holder.

Here are some of the potential consequences of such violations:

Statutory Damage

In many jurisdictions, holders can seek statutory damages for infringement.

Actual Damages and Profits

The copyright owner is entitled to recover the actual damages they suffered as a result of the infringement, as well as any profits the infringer made from the infringement that are attributable to the infringement.


Courts can issue injunctions to stop the infringer from continuing to use the copyrighted work.

This could mean pulling a song from distribution or stopping a live performance.

Criminal Penalties

In certain severe cases, particularly where the infringement is willful and involves substantial amounts of copyrighted works, criminal charges can be brought against the infringer.

These can result in hefty fines and even imprisonment.

Legal Costs and Attorney’s Fees

If a  holder successfully proves infringement, the infringer may be ordered to pay for the holder’s legal costs and attorney’s fees, which can be significant.

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In conclusion, while the world of music copyright can be complex, one key point to remember is that song titles themselves are not subject to copyright.

Although melodies, lyrics, and recordings all enjoy extensive protection, a song’s title doesn’t receive the same treatment under law.

Nonetheless, understanding the broader landscape of protection is crucial for any artist, songwriter, or music enthusiast.

It’s always important to respect the creative work of others and ensure you have the necessary permissions when using material.

And remember, when in doubt, it’s wise to consult with a legal expert. Stay tuned for more intriguing insights into the ever-fascinating music industry!

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can song titles be copyrighted?

No, song titles cannot be copyrighted. Copyright law does not protect short phrases like song titles.

However, the melodies, lyrics, and recordings of a song can be copyrighted.

If song titles are not copyrighted, can I name my song the same as a famous song?

Technically, yes, you can use the same title as a famous song because titles are not subject to copyright.

However, it might lead to confusion and potential legal issues related to trademark law or unfair competition, especially if it misleads audiences into thinking your song is associated with the famous one.

Can lyrics be copyrighted?

Yes, lyrics can be copyrighted. They are considered a form of artistic expression and are therefore protected under  law.

This means you cannot use someone else’s lyrics without their permission or without proper licensing.

What happens if I violate song copyright?

Copyright infringement can lead to serious consequences including statutory damages, actual damages and profits, injunctions, and in some cases, criminal penalties.