A guide to intellectual property for musicians, bands & record labels in a connected world.

What should artists, bands and record labels be considering in order to protect themselves and their work in this fast moving and connected world? When publishing content online, it is important to protect your own work, while also being aware of the many risks associated with sampling, recording and even artwork.

For World Intellectual Property Day: HGF have produced the following guide for artists, producers and small labels.

Things to check before you release your music online

Before publishing or selling music online, you need to make sure you actually own the rights to it (be it the music itself or the artwork). However artists are frequently caught out, such as Baauer, the creator of the song “Harlem Shake”, who was sued in 2013 for unauthorised use of other artists samples.

Sampling

If your music features samples of other artists or groups, always ensure that you have the relevant permissions to use them prior to release. For example, make sure that you have a licence from the copyright holder of the music sampled (permission may need to be sought from a record label or the musician themselves). If you use any samples without the copyright holder’s permission, this will be copyright infringement, no matter how little of the music is used.

When registering any work with PRS, you should ensure that the copyright holder of the sample is listed in the registration. Remember that even if the song is old, or not well known, you could still be committing copyright infringement by using it without permission. Even huge global acts can fall foul of the law - in 2013 “The Beastie Boys”, were sued over a sample used on their album “Paul’s Boutique”.

Artwork

You also need to make sure that you have all of the relevant permissions to use your artwork. For example, is your artwork a collage of another artist's work? If so, you need the permission of the copyright holder for the artwork that you have used to create your album cover, prior to any release.

If your artwork has been produced by a third party, such as a freelance artist, then make sure that they have assigned any intellectual property rights in the art work to you.

Remember that just because you have paid for the artwork, this does not necessarily mean that you are the owner of any copyright used in this, even if the freelancer has acquired the rights to it.

Band Names

Artists frequently encounter clashes with other identical or similarly named acts and are sometimes forced to change their name. For instance, the British artist and performer “FKA Twigs”, originally began her career simply as “Twigs”, but was forced to change this, due to another artist already operating under the same name.

Whether you are a band or a solo artist it is also a good idea to protect your name. Conducting Trade Mark searches and registering your name or your band’s name as a Trade Mark will help to ensure that you are entitled to use it and discourage others from adopting the same name (although this is probably more suited to larger acts).

A Google search can give an initial idea of whether or not a name is already being used, however in order to get a greater guarantee and clear your chosen band name, it is a good idea to speak to a Trade Mark attorney.

Online music platforms

There are many different platforms today that artists can choose from to publish their work. Although the first thing that comes to mind when you think of non-traditional publishing platforms is the streaming and downloading of music, there are other methods, such as CD Baby which allows you to sell physical and digital copies of your music. For $4 per unit sold, CD Baby then attempts to place your music in various stores, e-stores etc, giving you the opportunity to have your music placed in a variety of store fronts. Another method of getting your music out to a wider audience, without the traditional labels is Bandcamp, founded in 2008. For 15% of digital sales, Bandcamp allows you to sell your music and merchandise directly to fans.

It is important to note that all publishing platforms have terms and conditions that can result in the removal of materials which infringe copyright. If you are considering using any of these platforms, it is essential to ensure that your music does not contain material which third parties can complain about from a copyright perspective.

Terms and Conditions

When signing up for online music distribution platforms, bear in mind that although you are generally not assigning over the copyright of your content when signing up for these services, they usually require you to grant licences for them to reproduce and distribute your music and to display your artwork etc. If you do not have the relevant permissions to do this (for example you have signed a deal with a record label which prevents you from dealing with your content in this way), then you should not upload content to these platforms.

What happens when somebody buys or downloads your music?

When somebody downloads or buys your music you are not giving away any rights. Therefore they are not free to do whatever they want with your content. If, for example, you notice that a blog or other website is using content downloaded from a service like iTunes without the consent of your band or label you can stop this content being shared online on the basis of copyright infringement.