Copyright 101 & a bit

I continue to get inquiries from emerging artists that really dont understand the area of copyright fully.
2 weeks ago I was at an APRA Publishers Pulse day and in the morning they had some basic summary stuff on slides. I was given a copy of those slides and with permission – copy the basic points here for your perusal.

Note this is very light and basic but some points are worth being sure people know (my notes to points in italics)

So ……..

Copyright laws exist to protect the rights of creators and those who invest in them to make sure they are fairly paid for the use of their work. This provides a very valuable and necessary income stream to many composers, writers, artists and other creators.

It is worth noting that copyright specifics are different for many of the arts (eg copyright conditions on literature is different to music, etc) – so I will be concentrating on the musical side only in this article – – -and as it relates to Australia (because again there is different laws and actions in different regions).

Copyright in music

  • Protects music, lyrics and recordings separately
  • It is automatically granted in Australia, no registration required  (note: this is different to some countries where you have to register your copyright for it to be noted)
  • When Writers / publishers register their ownership of works with APRA-AMCOS, this is for royalty distribution only (copyright remains residing with the owner of the work)
  • NOTE: APRA AMCOS does not decide who is the true copyright owner (we dont have the registration process here so its up to a proof, potentially legal process to determine)
  • If disputes arise around ownership of works, APRA AMCOS will hold money on a work until resolved between members
  • Copyright is akin to property, can be bought/sold or assigned/licensed in agreements (e.g. APRA AMCOS, to music publishers)
  • Copyright exists in many types of works and materials not just those that APRA AMCOS administers and licenses on behalf of our members and affiliates.
  • For information on copyright generally, the websites for Australian Copyright Council ( ) and the New Zealand Copyright Council ( are excellent resources.
  • Term of copyright
    For musical works (relevant to writers/composers/lyricists) the copyright term in Australia is the life of the author + 70 years*
    (*If the author died before 01/01/1955 then copyright term is life of the author + 50 years)
    For sound recordings (yes there is a separate copyright and royalty payable) the copyright term in Australia is the year first published + 70 years


APRA-AMCOS work specifically on the songwriter side
The Australian Copyright Act (1968) gives music copyright owners a number of rights. APRA AMCOS looks after these specific rights.  So they help you as a songwriter look after your rights and payments when someone

  • Performs the work in public:
    including these venues: hotels, bars, nightclubs, cafes, gyms, retailers,  cinemas, concerts and events. and by any means including radio, TV, film, CD players/personal devices, online streaming, DJ or live artist/performer
  • Communicates the work to the public by various means:  including broadcast on radio, TV, online (iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Pandora, Netflix, Stan, YouTube)
  • Reproduces their work in material form e.g. CD, vinyl, sheet music, digital download, online (iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Pandora, Netflix, Stan, YouTube),
    ringtones etc

HOWEVER …In Australia, these are 4 organisations that collect and pay royalties
BECAUSE there are rights and potentially royalties for the musical works AND sound recordings
These are divided into the type of rights and also whether Music Work or Sound Recording.

  • For Performing (performance in public) and Communication Rights(broadcast, online, downloads & streaming)
    Music Works rights representing  music publishers, composers and songwriter
    Are collected by APRA
    Sound Recording rights representing record companies, labels and artists who create sound recordings.
    Are collected by PPCA
  • Mechanical (Reproduction) Rights (CD manufacture, downloads & streaming)
    Music Works rights representing  music publishers, composers and songwriter
    Are collected by AMCOS
    Sound Recording rights representing record companies, labels and artists who create sound recordings.
    Are collected by ARIA

    * NOTE – downloads & streaming have both communication right and reproduction (mech) right – so there is possibly royalties payable in both areas on a recorded version of a song!!!!!!

So  a singer songwriter who writes original songs that are being performed and then records those songs and they are being played on radio (or in cafe’s etc)- they should be registered with BOTH APRA and PPCA
IF then they have someone want to license their song – depending if it is the original song (so want to record it themselves)  or use the finished recorded version (in say film etc)  – then may also need to be registered with BOTH AMCOS and ARIA

Confusing?  Possibly. More time and paperwork? Probably BUT  ……. there are royalty payments available on the mechanical side as well as perfoming royalties from iTunes, Youtube etc etc – and even radio air play!!!!! So if you are not registered and doing the returns etc  – you are missing out on income!!!

Hope you found this of interest.  Happy to help if more information or assistance is needed.

Till next time.




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