How Copyright Works: Musical Composition Copyright and Sound Recording Copyright | Berklee Online


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In this video, Berklee Online course author E. Michael Harrington explains the difference between composition copyright and sound recording copyright. The composition goes from being what was in your head to being actual music, recorded by a band or orchestra. There’s a copyright for both the composition and how the overall sound is arranged. A song will always have two copyrights. You will get paid royalties for every use of a recording: vinyl, digital, etc. Dr. Harrington details some of the unusual specifics: If another artist covers your song and posts it online, theoretically the composer and record label will all get paid. If it’s played on FM radio, only the composer gets paid.

About E. Michael Harrington:
Dr. E. Michael Harrington is a professor in music copyright and intellectual property matters. He has lectured at many law schools, organizations, and music conferences throughout North America, including Harvard Law, George Washington University Law, Hollywood Bar Association, Texas Bar, Minnesota Bar, Houston Law Center, Brooklyn Law, BC Law, Loyola Law, NYU, McGill, Eastman, Emory, the Experience Music Project, Future of Music Coalition, Pop Montreal, and others. He has worked as a consultant and expert witness in hundreds of music copyright matters including efforts to return “We Shall Overcome” and “This Land Is Your Land” to the public domain, and has worked with director Steven Spielberg, producer Mark Burnett, the Dixie Chicks, Steve Perry, Busta Rhymes, Samsung, Keith Urban, HBO, T-Pain, T. I., Snoop Dogg, Collin Raye, Tupac Shakur, Lady Gaga, George Clinton, Mariah Carey, and others. He sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Popular Culture, advisory board of the Future of Music Coalition and the Creators Freedom Project, and is a member of Leadership Music. Michael has been interviewed by the New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg Law, Wall Street Journal, Time, Huffington Post, Billboard, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Money Magazine, Investor’s Business Daily, People Magazine, Life Magazine, and Washington Post, in addition to BRAVO, PBS, ABC News, NBC’s “Today Show,” the Biography Channel, NPR, CBC and others. He teaches Music Business Capstone and Music Licensing courses at Berklee Online, and is the course author and instructor for Music Business Law, part of the curriculum for Berklee Online’s Master of Art in Music Business degree.

About Berklee Online:
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Copyright Law | E. Michael Harrington | Composition Copyright | Copyright Infringement | Composition and Sound Recording Copyright | Music Business | Berklee Online | Berklee College of Music | Music Business Law


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  1. Hi there people: I was curious and indignant over classical songs from the 80s being played from AMI juke boxes. I notice some of these songs have been altered or changed so as to diminish its awesome impact on the mind and soul of anyone who’s never heard these classic songs before. Another reason it’s sabotaged is because music execs want to “quick sell” their “cookie cutter” cheaply put together modern day music. And they don’t want the millennials getting hip to quality music put together in the old fashion way. Do they have the right to alter a classic song or diminish its fullness in any way, shape or form? Isn’t this illegal? Or are the artists or creators helpless to do anything? Because they sold their rights to their songs?

  2. So is it fair to say that one is the "Intellectual Property Copyright" (The initial idea) and the "Recording Copyright", the copyrights of use of the musical composition as a whole?

  3. If a song is composed by one team and performed for the first time by someone else, are the composers still the only ones who get any money from AM/FM airplay? Or is this specifically when a song is recorded for the second (3rd, etc.) time?
    I mean, Sinatra and Elvis, for example, had enormous airplay, but didn't write most of their songs. Did they get no money for the airplay?

  4. So if I wrote and played a song to post on Youtube but wanted to protect myself completely would I need two registrations? One for Performing and one for Sound? thanks in Advance!

  5. thank you for the information,E.Micheal….
    so what i understand one has to need two seperate copyright one for song and one for sound recording..its not possible to get copyright for song and sound recording just getting copyright for sound recording….last but not least what about instrumental work do they need the same….thanks…


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