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Richard Stans
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How long does copyright protection last for music and what are the different durations based on the date of creation?

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How long does copyright protection last for music and what are the different durations based on the date of creation?
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6 Answers

  1. Federal copyright protection for sound recordings started post-February 15, 1972. The Music Modernization Act brings in a new type of copyright coverage for sound recordings produced before this date but doesn’t offer complete protection federally. Consequently, the usual federal copyright formalities are not necessary for sound recordings fixed prior to February 15, 1972. Identifying the exact date of these older recordings can be tough without a copyright indication. Assistance can be found in resources such as the Discography of American Historical Recordings, the Library of Congress’s Recorded Sound Research Center, the National Jukebox, and the Internet Archive’s Great 78 Project.

  2. Every musician who hopes to succeed must have a good understanding of music copyright law. Musicians who put effort into their craft are vulnerable to having their work stolen unless they grasp how to safeguard their creations. Here are eight essential principles of copyright law that every musician should be aware of:

    1. Copyright protection starts at the moment of creation When you create your music, that’s when copyright protection kicks in. Creation is considered when music or lyrics are recorded, written down, or otherwise saved in a tangible format, as stated by the U.S. Copyright Office.
  3. For musicians, understanding copyright law and the protections it offers is crucial. Initially, it’s important to realize that copyright protection begins as soon as an original work is recorded in a tangible form. This could be when a song is saved in an audio file or when a musical piece is written down in sheet music or a digital document. No further action is required to safeguard your work through copyright. Being the owner of your music grants you the rights to create and sell copies, share those copies, generate new works inspired by your original creation, and, subject to certain restrictions as detailed later, publicly perform or exhibit the work.

  4. Copyright protection duration varies depending on factors like publication and type of work. For works made after January 1, 1978, copyright typically lasts for the author’s life plus 70 years. Anonymous, pseudonymous, or work-for-hire creations are protected for 95 years after first publication or 120 years after creation, whichever is earlier. Works published pre-1978 have different terms. Consult the Copyright Act (title 17 of the United States Code) for specifics. Additional details are available in Circular 15a, Duration of Copyright, and Circular 1, Copyright Basics.

    • Works created on or after January 1, 1978 are protected for 70 years after the author’s death. If there are multiple authors, the protection extends to 70 years after the last author’s death. In cases of works made for hire, protection lasts 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever comes first.
    • For works created before but published or registered after January 1, 1978, the copyright term is usually calculated similarly to works created on or after that date. However, the copyright cannot expire before December 31, 2002, for any work, and for works published after that date, the copyright end date is set to December 31, 2047.
    • Works created and published or registered before January 1, 1978, enjoy a copyright protection of 75 years from the publication date with a copyright notice. For works registered in unpublished form, protection lasts from the registration date. Any pre-1978 copyrights still existing on October 27, 1998, received a 20-year extension, totaling in a protection term of 95 years.

    It is important to note that even though some classical music pieces may be in the public domain, specific recordings of these pieces are likely still protected by copyright.

  5. In general, music copyright lasts for 70 years after the creator’s death, allowing the artist or their heirs to own the music during and after the creator’s lifetime. This grants financial benefits to the creator and their family both currently and in the future. However, extended copyright periods might hinder access to music and stifle the creativity of other artists as it may pose challenges for creating new works inspired by existing ones.

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