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Intellectual Property in the Music Industry

Intellectual Property

For many of us, music plays an important part in our lives. From upbeat pop tunes that get us through a tough workout, to the songs we sing along to in the car, our favorite music has the power to bring us joy throughout the day.

However, without artists’ ability to protect their work, the music industry as we know it would likely cease to exist. Fortunately, thanks to intellectual property (IP) protections, musicians and music publishers can profit and safely share their songs with the world. Because of this incentive to create, paired with the protections provided by IP, in 2020 the U.S. music industry generated $12.2 billion.

Though you might not be thinking about it as you listen to your favorite songs, IP is at work behind every recording. Read on to find out how.


Music Copyrights

General copyright law gives creators of specific work the rights to decide what others can do with their work. With copyright protections relating to music, artists can prevent the unauthorized use of their songs. Once a piece of music is recorded or written down, copyright protection of this work is automatically created.

A song contains two separate copyright protections:

  1. Sound recording copyright: This protection is associated with a specific recording. Once an artist produces a recording of one of their songs, they assume ownership of that recording or assign ownership to the record label that represents them.
  2. Musical composition copyright: Composed of the song’s music and lyrics, musical composition copyright is owned by the songwriter(s). Ownership of this protection is often given to a music publisher that represents the artist.

Each time a track is played on increasingly popular streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music, a small amount of money is paid to the copyright owner of that song. Royalties are also paid each time an artist’s music is played on the radio.

Sound recording and musical composition copyrights also protect musicians from unauthorized use of their music in YouTube videos, commercials, television shows and movies. To use a song, typically a licensing fee must be paid to the track’s copyright owner.


Music Trademarks

Trademarks used in the music industry are used to protect things like band names, logos and phrases related to specific song lyrics. In contrast to the protections provided by copyrights, trademarks protect things that help fans and consumers identify the source of the music. For a musician or band that sells merchandise, trademarks are an essential way to ensure that other parties are held accountable if they try to profit through the sale of counterfeit products.


Learn More About IP

To learn more about the power and purpose of IP, we encourage you to read more articles from the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s Guide to Intellectual Property.

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