Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Question: “I Created a Song! When Is It Considered Published?”

Recently I was asked to speak to a group of young performing artists/songwriters about music publishing, copyright and royalties. One of the artists in the group asked ‘what does it mean when someone asks if a song they created was ‘published’? I explained the term ‘published’ or ‘publication’ can be referred back to copyright law and the rights of the copyright owner. First, lets examine what the term ‘publish’ means. Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘publish’ as:

1 a: to make generally known b: to make public announcement of 2a: to disseminate to the public b: to produce or release for distribution; specifically; c: to issue the work of (an author)

Publishing and copyrights are not the same! The moment a song is created and fixed in a tangible form (copied to CD etc), the song is considered ‘copyrighted’ and is protected by copyright law. The copyright owner is the creator (author) of its works (song). Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive rights to do and to authorize others to reproduce, distribute, record, perform and prepare new works based upon the copyrighted work (derivative work). Publication is defined by copyright law as ‘the distributon of copies of phonorecords of a work (song in this case) to the public by sale, or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending’ (see Merriam-Webster’s definition above). Thus a song is not considered published until there is a distribution of copies to the public by sale, rental, lease, lending, or other transfer of ownship. Creating a song, copying it to a CD and offering and/or distributing to the public for sale for the first time, is considered ‘publish’ when all these things occur. Publication does not occur because CD’s were pressed and created. There must be distrubution or an offering to distributue copies before the song can be considered published.