/ What are the Copyright Laws for Music

What are the Copyright Laws for Music

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Manish Jindal

December 6, 2023


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What are the Copyright Laws for Music

As the music industry evolves with digital innovation and remix culture, the need to reevaluate and adapt copyright regulations becomes increasingly crucial.

Copyrights in India are regulated under the Copyright Act of 1957.

Section 14 of this Act delves into the essence of copyright, defining it as the exclusive authorisation to engage in specific actions or grant permission to others for the same.

This article gives you a knowledgeable insight into what are the copyright laws for music.

What Are the Copyright Laws for Music?

Copyright laws for music are legal regulations that grant creators and owners exclusive rights to their musical compositions and recordings.

These rights allow creators to control how their music is used, distributed, and reproduced, safeguarding their artistic endeavors and ensuring they receive proper recognition and compensation.

The Origins and Evolution of Indian Copyright Law

The roots of Indian Copyright Law trace back to the colonial era, specifically in 1847.

Notably, in 1914, India introduced new copyright legislation with several significant modifications:

  1. Criminal Sanctions for Copyright Violation: The updated law incorporated criminal penalties for infringing on copyright.
  2. Expanded Copyright Scope: The term ‘copyright’ was broadened and redefined as a ‘sole right.’ This empowered original creators to reproduce, adapt, produce, or publish translations of their works.

This legislation persisted until 1957 when a new legal framework emerged following India’s independence.

This comprehensive legislation was known as the Copyright Act of 1957, superseding the earlier Act of 1914, which was an extension of the British Copyright Act of 1911.

Subsequently, in 2012, the Parliament enacted the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2012, aimed at aligning Indian copyright laws with international standards and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties, such as the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT).

The notable changes brought about by this amendment encompassed:

  1. Artistic Works Enhancements: Amendments were introduced pertaining to artistic works, including cinematograph films and sound recordings.
  2. WIPO Treaty Compliance: Adjustments were made in accordance with the WCT and WPPT to ensure international alignment.
  3. License and Assignment Modifications: The modes of granting licenses and assignments underwent alterations.
  4. Internet Piracy Safeguards: Provisions were implemented to safeguard against internet piracy and copyright issues in the digital landscape.

This progressive evolution reflects India’s efforts to adapt its copyright laws to the changing global landscape while ensuring protection for creators and their creative outputs.

What Types of Music are Eligible for Licensing?

Specially Composed Music:

A cost-effective approach involves composing and recording a unique song for your project, saving both money and administrative hurdles.

If budget is limited, you can commission music from an unsigned artist or band, potentially acquiring the music license at a discounted rate.

A contract detailing usage frequency and context remains essential in this scenario.

Commercial Music:

Incorporating commercial music into your production requires a more intricate and pricier licensing process compared to using library music.

Commercial music pertains to songs aimed at the general public, like radio hits or Spotify tracks.

Acquiring permission through a synchronization license from the song’s writer is mandatory. Additionally, a dubbing or master license from the recording’s copyright holder is essential.

Library Music:

Libraries house vast collections of music designed for commercials, television, and film.

Whether seeking excitement, emotion, or suspense, these libraries offer pre-composed tracks that can be used by paying a fee.

The advantage lies in sidestepping elaborate licensing procedures typically associated with other types of music.

Copyright Act’s Section 51: Guidelines for Remixing Existing Songs

Section 51 of the Copyright Act Pertaining to Copyright Infringement addresses the process for creating remixes of existing songs.

If an individual intends to create a remix of an older song, they are required to adhere to the rights of the original author. This involves:

  1. Providing prior notice of their intention to the original author.
  2. Paying royalties in advance to the owner of the original work.
  3. Granting the owner the right to examine the financial records related to the remix.
  4. Releasing the remix no sooner than 2 years after the creation of the original work.

For example, if a music producer wishes to remix a classic song from the 80s, they must inform the original songwriter of their intention and settle on royalties before proceeding.

The original songwriter retains the right to audit the financial aspects of the remix project.

Furthermore, the remix cannot be publicly released until at least 2 years have passed since the creation of the original song.

This legal framework ensures that the rights and interests of the original author are respected and acknowledged in the process of creating new versions of their work.

Six Exclusive Rights Held by Copyright Owners and How They Impact Music

Copyright owners possess six distinct rights that grant them control over their creative work.

These rights not only allow music professionals to earn income but also safeguard their original creations. Let’s delve into each of these exclusive rights:

Reproduce the Copyrighted Work:

This initial right empowers copyright holders to duplicate their creations, whether it’s printing CDs or streaming the content online.

Each time a song is played on a streaming platform, both the sound recording (master) and the underlying musical composition are reproduced.

Streaming services need licenses to reproduce songs in their catalog.

Streaming payouts compensate master copyright owners, whereas mechanical royalties go to composition owners.

Prepare Derivative Works:

The legal right to create derivative versions of a musical composition belongs solely to the copyright owner.

Derivative works incorporate significant elements from the original work.

Creating such works, like remixes or covers, often requires synchronization and master use licenses, which grant the rights to the composition and master recording.

These derivative works are used in advertisements, TV shows, movies, and more.

Distribute Copies to the Public:

Copyright owners possess the right to sell copies of their work to the public.

In the digital age, streaming payouts handle the distribution of sound recordings, while composition distribution involves activities like sheet music sales.

Perform the Work Publicly:

This right covers any form of audio broadcast in public spaces. Live shows, music in bars, radio broadcasts, and streaming platforms all fall under public performances.

Performance rights generate substantial revenue for songwriters and publishers, and in some countries, recording artists as well.

Perform the Work Publicly Digitally:

Digital performance rights pertain to digital radio platforms like Pandora and SiriusXM.

Unlike traditional radio, these rights ensure that recording artists earn performance royalties for their music played on digital radio.

Display the Work Publicly:

This less-used right applies to visual art or literature, and it involves showing the work in public.

For music, it’s relevant when lyrics are displayed on platforms like CDs or music streaming services. Obtaining a print license allows this display.

Understanding these exclusive rights is crucial as they underpin various types of royalties in the music industry.

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Whether it’s composition or master-side earnings, these rights lay the foundation for artists’ payments.

Can Songs be Copyrighted?

Yes, songs can indeed be copyrighted. When a song is created and fixed in a tangible form, such as being written down or recorded, it automatically gains copyright protection.

This protection gives the songwriter exclusive rights to the use, reproduction, distribution, and public performance of their song.

Whether it’s the lyrics, melody, or both, songs are considered intellectual property and are subject to copyright laws to safeguard the rights of the creators.

Music Licensing for Platforms like Gaana, Spotify, and Amazon Music

When it comes to music available on platforms like Gaana, Spotify, or Amazon Music, the principles of copyright ownership come into play.

The exclusive rights associated with copyright inherently belong to the original copyright owner, who can choose to transfer or license these rights to others.

Section 30 of the copyright act elaborates that copyright holders can indeed grant these rights to third parties.

This process is how platforms like Gaana, Spotify, and Amazon Music operate. They acquire licenses to offer music within their services.

These licenses are established through licensing agreements.

The agreements are contractual agreements between artists and music streaming companies.

However, these agreements might pose challenges for individual artists due to costs and complexities.

To streamline this process, copyright societies function as intermediaries. They act as agents to simplify the licensing procedure, making it less cumbersome.

Through this setup, artists receive rightful compensation for their creative work, typically in the form of royalty payments.

The specifics of these payments, as well as the terms and conditions, are detailed within the artists’ music license agreements.

Navigating Remixes and Copyright Interplay

Copyright complexities arise when remixing musical works that are already under copyright protection.

The Copyright Act lacks a specific definition for “remix,” which typically involves modifying beats and making minor adjustments to song lyrics.

To illustrate, take the renowned track “Tamma Tamma.” This song held an iconic status. Yet, a remixed version emerged in the movie “Badrinath Ki Dulhaniyaa,” infusing it with contemporary beats and a modern vibe.

Balancing the legal landscape becomes intricate – safeguarding the rights of both the remix’s author and the original work’s creator while upholding copyright law integrity.

Managing these intricacies requires preserving creative rights while ensuring that the new rendition respects the legal boundaries, fostering a harmonious coexistence within the realm of music copyright law.

4 Methods to Maximise Your Musical Copyright Rights

The approach you choose to maximise your royalties depends on whether you are focusing on the composition or the master recording aspect of the copyright.

To distribute your master recordings, you can utilise a distributor to make your music accessible on streaming platforms, which can potentially boost your sales through streaming.

Yet, when it comes to the composition copyright, the path is a tad more intricate:

  1. Register with the Copyright Office: As highlighted earlier in the benefits section, enforcing copyright protection or taking action against infringement necessitates registering the copyright with the relevant authority, such as the US Copyright Office or its counterpart in your country. This pertains to both master and compositional copyrights.
  2. Apply for a Harry Fox Agency License: To earn mechanical royalties, you need to become a member of the Harry Fox Agency (HFA), the sole mechanical royalties collection society. This membership ensures you receive compensation for mechanicals.
  3. Join a PRO as a Songwriter: Public performance royalties are overseen by Performance Rights Organizations (PROs). In the US, options include BMI, ASCAP, or invitation-only SESAC.Being a member of a PRO guarantees that you will receive royalties every time your music is played in public, representing your share of the copyright.
  4. Publish Your Works: To fully reap the compositional royalties you’re entitled to, consider publishing your music. Half of the composition royalties are allocated to the publisher. You can establish your publishing micro-company for self-publishing or opt for representation by a music publisher. Self-publishing guarantees 100% of compositional royalties, while partnering with a publisher offers benefits in royalty management, representation, and promotion.

The choice between self-publishing and traditional representation hinges on your preferences and goals. Both routes have distinct advantages.

While self-publishing guarantees full compositional royalties, traditional publishers offer administrative expertise and promotional support, ensuring that royalties are tracked and claimed throughout the distribution pipeline.

Impact of Piracy on the Music Industry

The widespread use of smartphones has resulted in an increase in the usage of pirated music in India.

This illicit practice, encompassing illegal downloads and music piracy, inflicts significant damage on the music industry’s revenue stream.

The 2019 ‘Digital Music Study’ by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry – Indian Music Industry (IFPI-IMI) has indicated that the music industry experiences a significant annual loss of around fifteen hundred crore as a result of music piracy.

The repercussions of piracy extend beyond financial implications. It casts a shadow over the music industry’s growth trajectory and disrupts its economic fabric.

The ramifications are particularly felt by artists, publishers, and composers who often find themselves inadequately compensated.

This unfortunate reality stems from a prevailing cultural mindset in India, where there exists a prevailing assumption that music should be available without financial commitment.

The collective impact of music piracy on revenue loss, the artistic community, and the overall perception of music as a valued commodity necessitates proactive efforts to combat this issue.

By addressing piracy, the music industry can reclaim its vitality, fostering an environment where artists receive just recognition for their creations and music is esteemed as a product deserving of due compensation.

How to Copyright a CD?

Copyrighting your CD is crucial because it provides legal protection for your creative efforts.

It grants you exclusive rights over the reproduction, distribution, public performance, and creation of derivative works based on the content.

This means that you have control over how your work is used, and others need your permission to use it. I

n case of infringement or unauthorised use, having a copyright in place gives you the legal grounds to take action.

To know the complete process of how to copyright a CD, check out the linked article.


In conclusion, understanding the basics of music copyright is paramount for both creators and consumers alike.

From graphical notation to digital downloads, the intricate web of rights surrounding audio and cover versions demands attention.

Navigating the creative process involves acknowledging rights holders and abiding by basic rules.

As the industry embraces digital files, audio files, and digital video, potential copyright disputes with cover songs or digital infringements loom.

Thus, safeguarding the integrity of the creative realm requires a comprehensive grasp of copyright law in music.

This knowledge protects authors, supports music companies, and ensures fair consideration for all involved in this harmonious landscape.


What are the fundamentals of Music Copyright Law?

1. Originality is Key: Copyrighted works must possess originality.
2. Legal Validation: Copyright violations are established through legal proceedings.
3. Record Label Role: Record labels typically manage master recording copyrights.
4. Publisher’s Role: Publishers oversee compositional copyrights.
5. Lifespan of Copyrights: Copyrights endure for 70 years beyond the owner’s lifespan.
6. Mechanical License for Covers: In the US, cover versions necessitate a mechanical license exclusively.

Can I use copyrighted music in my YouTube videos?

Yes, but it depends on the context. If your use falls under fair use, you may use copyrighted music for certain purposes without permission.

How can I obtain a license to use copyrighted music?

You can obtain a license for copyrighted music through the appropriate licensing agencies or directly from the copyright owner.

Can I cover a copyrighted song and post it online?

Covering a copyrighted song may require obtaining a mechanical license to legally reproduce and distribute the song.

What is the duration of copyright protection for music?

Copyright protection for music typically lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 60 years in India.

Is royalty-free music the same as copyrighted music?

No, royalty-free music is music for which the user pays a one-time fee for the license, allowing them to use the music without additional royalties.

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