Budding musicians and Intellectual property – the basics

Today’s musicians, if they are fortunate enough to make it, still face serious issues and difficulties on the legal front. And no, we are not talking about the party lifestyle and the consequences that arise from it. Rather, we are talking about intellectual property. With the rise and advent of the internet, the development of internet piracy on one end, and YouTube and another video-sharing website on the other, it is very difficult for any musical artist to keep control over their music and intellectual property. However, just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Get the right people and the right contract

Now, making it big is the dream, but sometimes it’s just enough to make a living doing what you love. Still, you need to protect your band name, the music you create, your album art, and basically, everything that represents you as an artist. The core piece of advice industry professionals give is – get a good contract and a good attorney.

Namely, any artist or band that is starting out needs to get surrounded by as many high-quality people as they can get. The first contract you sign will most likely be in effect for years. And since you have to strike when the iron is hot, a poorly set up contract can ruin you for years to come. You need to get proper advice, and you need to get it soon.

Another advantage of getting an attorney to back you up is that he or she can help you get good managers, guide you on navigated more serious business and career decisions, help you with how you handle cover songs, samples, how you talk with other industry professionals….

Cover songs can be problematic

Cover songs can serve as a fund launching pad, and can serve a cherry on top of your finished album. However, in order to create a cover and distribute it, you will need to get a mechanical licence. You will also need to pay out royalties in some capacity or another for these rights. Now, this does not refer to public domain songs, but you need to be one hundred percent certain that they are open.

As far as performing cover songs live, you need to get a performance licence. However, these licences are most likely obtained by venue owners, so it’s not something you should obsess over. And, as always, talk to your attorney, let him or her handle things of this capacity.

Band names and trademarks

As far as trademarking your brand name goes, you need to file a form with your relevant Patent and trademark office. However, there is an important point here that needs to be made. Namely, while you should file the form, and while it is useful, the actual rights are to be reserved through usage. Namely, a band will get the rights to its name only if the public starts associating the name with said band.

Of course in general, understand that just filing a form is not enough. However, it can definitely protect you in stations where you won’t have much choice except contacting commercial litigation lawyers and suing somebody who stole your name and is making a big buck off of it.

As far as copyrighting your original music is concerned, the moment you perform a song, or the moment your original song is recorded, the copyright will exist and will be protected by common law.

Album art can also be copyrighted, in the same way and system much is copyrighted as well. Just remember that you can most likely register these things with the proper relevant office in your region. However, most of the time, unless the band itself created the album art, they will not be the relevant owners of the album art.

YouTube and its pitfalls

YouTube is a very specific entity. Even though hits been around for some time now, the legalities that surround the platform are still not widely known. So, you need to find someone who has experience dealing with YouTube, someone who knows how to handle it, how YouTube works. One of the more important things you have to do when working with YouTube is providing YouTube with the proper reference files. These files are samples of the materials that are going to be copyrighted. This allows YouTube to, among other things, recognize your work and to protect it better from infringements online.

Band breakups

The dreaded band breakup, the nightmare of any band. Now, we are not saying that this will happen, but being in a band is volatile endeavour. Think of it like a prenup, a prenuptial agreement. In this contract, you should specify how everything will be handled. Things like merchandising, how you master recordings, IP rights, logos, trademarks…. You need to have a very clear understanding of what is what, and who’s is who’s, if a “divorce” happens.


And there you have it folks, a quick primer on IP protection. Whether it’s preparing for a breakup, getting the right attorney involved, or handling YouTube like it should be handled, just know that you need to think things through.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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