Music copyright laws

Music copyright laws are those laws that protect the copyright interest that musicians and performers have over their own, original work.

Copyright law in the UK protects any original work automatically; there is no need to use a lawyer to register your recording or production.


The advantage of the music copyright laws in the UK is that it is completely free to receive legal protection for your work. The only legal stipulation is that the work must be original. If there are elements of other compositions within the piece, it may well infringe music copyright laws, unless those elements were reproduced with permission.

The downside of the UK’s music copyright laws is that because there is no register of copyright work, it falls on the owner of copyright and their lawyers to act to protect their rights when they are infringed. Infringement occurs when copyright protected music is:

  • Copied
  • Performed
  • Broadcast
  • Adapted without the express permission of the copyright owner

Music copyright laws distinguish between the composition of a piece, and its performance.

The copyright for the composition of original works is protected for 70 years after the date of the death of the author. Sound recordings will also be protected for 70 years after a ruling by the European Council back in 2011, which is due to be implemented across Europe by 2014.

Online piracy

One of the main areas of interest in music copyright law concerns the illegal downloading of copyright material. Illegal downloading breaks music copyright laws because the distribution of the protected work has not been authorised by the work’s producer or performer. Illegal file sharing also denies the work’s producer a royalty, limiting their income and hindering their ability to perform new work.

Whilst illegal file sharing could theoretically give rise to an action from an individual artist against a consumer, in reality this has never happened. Instead the music industry has sought to stifle illegal downloading by lobbying for new laws to require Internet Service Providers to shut down piracy websites, and to send letters to users who download content illegally.

You will:

  • First be sent a warning letter
  • Secondly have your account suspended
  • Thirdly have your internet connection terminated

It is thought that these letters will be sent to internet users who illegally download material from 1st March 2014.

If you are concerned that are violating music copyright law, you might benefit from speaking to an intellectual property solicitor. Such a specialist can provide you with a detailed assessment of what the law states regarding your situation. And if you feel that your music copyright may have been violated you should definitely speak to a qualified solicitor.

For more detailed information on online piracy, see our FAQ on downloading and criminal law.

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