How copyright works

Copyright of a musical work begins automatically once a piece of music is created and documented or recorded. In the UK, this is detailed in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Copyrighting your work

There is no official method to copyright work in the UK. 

However, evidence of creation and ownership can be created in a few ways. 

The first is by mailing or saving a physical copy of the work in any way that will help to establish when it was created. For example, you could send it to yourself by a recorded delivery, or store it with your bank. The work must be time stamped and remain sealed for this to provide any legal proof.

Electronic emailing or saving of the work, which will provide a time-stamped copy, is another way to evidence creation and ownership. 

Sending a copy of your work to yourself by a recorded delivery is stronger evidence of copyright ownership than an electronic time stamp, because it will have your name attached to it.

Your rights as a copyright owner

As the owner of your work's copyright, you have 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 (i.e. broadcasting it via TV, radio, internet etc.)

Transferring rights and registering works

As a member of the Performing Right Society (PRS) or the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS), you give permission for us to protect your rights and collect royalties on your behalf. As a member, you are responsible for registering each work. Registration is not the same as copyrighting your work. 

As a PRS member

As a PRS member, you transfer your rights to perform or play your work in public. This includes live performance, radio and TV broadcasts, films and adverts, streaming, downloading, ringtones and hold music for phone systems. We can then monitor any kind of music use and collect any due royalties.

As an MCPS member

MCPS acts on your behalf, administering the rights to:

  • copy your work (pressing CDs and creating digital downloads)
  • issue copies of the work for sale or promotion
  • rent or lend the work to the public

How long does copyright last?

In the UK, copyright 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 (EEA), the copyright lasts for as long as the music is protected by copyright in its country of origin, provided that this does not exceed 70 years.

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