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Copyright FAQ 

What is copyright?
Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. It allows an original work to be considered a property that is owned by somebody. The relevant UK law is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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How does copyright work in music?
When a song or piece of music is written, the person who wrote it owns the copyright and therefore has the right to decide how and when it should be played. Music is released, allowing individuals to purchase a song or piece which they can play at home. However, if an individual wishes to play that piece of music to a wider group of people, for example on their business or organisation’s premises, it is classed as a public performance. If you want to make a public performance you must first seek permission from the copyright owner of that song before you do so. This permission is known as a licence.

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When does copyright begin?
In music, copyright begins automatically once a piece of music is created then documented or recorded, for example on video, tape or CD or simply writing down the notation of a score.

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Does PRS for Music copyright music on my behalf?
Registering your music with PRS for Music does not create copyright. If you follow the suggestions outlined below you have a better chance of proving you own the copyright if any of your music is disputed.

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How do you protect your music as a songwriter or composer?
Currently, no official form of registration is available. In the UK, all original music is protected by copyright from the time it is recorded or written down in some format. It is important to be able to prove that you own the copyright of a particular recording. To do this we suggest the following:

  • Post a copy of the recording to yourself by special delivery. Clearly mark the envelope so you know what music it holds, but keep it sealed.

and/or

  • Store a copy with your solicitor or bank manager. Remember to keep a receipt and be aware that this method is likely to cost you some money.

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What are your rights as a copyright owner?
If you own the copyright you possess the sole authority to:

  • copy the music
  • issue, lend or rent copies to the public
  • perform, show or play the music in public
  • communicate the music to the public, for example broadcasting it via TV, radio or internet

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What happens to your rights when you become a PRS for Music member?
When joining as a PRS member your rights are transferred to us. These are:

  • to perform the music in the public, such as concerts, pubs and shops
  • to communicate the music to the public, via broadcast, on demand services, internet services, satellite and cable transmissions and more.

When joining as an MCPS member, we act as an agent on your behalf, to administer the following rights:

  • to copy the music, such as pressing CDs and creating downloads
  • to issue copies of the work to the public, such as the sale of CDs, tapes or vinyl in shops
  • to rent or lend the work to the public, such as the renting videos, tapes, CDs and library lending

How long does copyright last?
In the UK, copyright generally lasts for a period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies. If the music originates from outside the European Economic Area, the copyright lasts for as long as the music is protected by copyright in its country of origin, provided that the length of time does not exceed 70 years.

View the international terms of copyright protection.

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Further information
View a more detailed guide about copyright law.

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