Terms to Know

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Glossary: Important Music Industry Terms

Author The creator of any work that is copyrightable, whether it be artistic, literary, dramatic, or musical.

Booking Agent A person who finds employment for artists or performers in return for a percentage of the proceeds of that employment, usually ranging from 10 to 15 percent. Also known as talent agents.

Business Manager A person who manages the income, expenses, and investments, of a performer or artist. A business manager typically charges the artist five percent of his or her income for their services.

Copyright Exclusive rights granted to authors of copyrightable work, allowing the author to have control over that work and how it is (or is not) exploited for financial gain.

Copyright Infringement Unauthorized use of copyrighted works. In music this is usually manifested in the form of copying part of a song or composition. Copyright law calls for the plaintiff to prove the defendant has infringed on their copyright through a three-part test: 1) Did the defendant have access to the copyrighted work – did they have a chance to hear the song or see it in written form (sheet music or lyric sheet)? 2) Did the defendant copy, directly from the copyrighted work, a part of the song that is protected by copyright (some parts of songs or musical compositions are not protected by copyright, such as titles; themes and ideas; and stock chord progressions, such as a I-IV-V blues progression.) 3) Is the defendant’s composition substantially similar to that of the plaintiff’s composition?

Copyright Notice Used on a published work to give notice that a copyright owner is claiming possession. A copyright notice includes the following: 1) the word “copyright”, or the “©” symbol 2) the year of first publication, 3) the name of the copyright owner.

Exclusive Publishing Agreement A written contract allowing a specific music publisher to publish all works by a songwriter for a certain period of time. The publisher is allowed to oversee management and collection of royalties for any commercial use of these songs. In exchange for the right to publish the songwriter’s works, the publisher agrees to pay the songwriter a specified percentage of revenue from the commercial use of the songs, often in advance.

First Amendment Referring to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment grants the rights of free speech and freedom of the press, among others. The First Amendment is highly relevant to the music industry because, without its guarantees of uncensored free expression, many artists would not legally be able to record and release their compositions to the public.

Mechanical Rights An agreement made between an author or songwriter (usually a performer), or a publisher, and a record company, allowing the mass reproduction of a song on CDs, tapes, or records.

Mechanical Royalties Payment from a record company to a songwriter or publisher for use of a song on a record. These payments are often referred to as “mechanicals.”

Music Publisher A company that encourages licensing and commercial use of copyrighted songs and collects payment for the use of those songs. The copyrights must be assigned to the music publisher by the songwriters in written contract, in return for a percentage of royalties produced by the song.

Performing Rights Organization An organization that collects payment for licensed public performances of songs on behalf of the copyright owners, and pays royalties to the songwriters and publishers of the performed works. There are three organizations in the U.S. (among many others worldwide) that do this: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.

Personal Manager A person who guides the career of a performer. In return for their services, personal managers usually take 15 percent of the performer’s gross (entertainment-related) income.

Phonorecords In the U.S. copyright statute, “phonorecords” means material objects used to hold sound recordings of copyrighted songs. This includes cassette tapes, vinyl records, and compact discs, but not audiovisual devices (such as VHS tapes or DVDs).

Public Domain The status of a recording or composition free of copyright protection, and available for unrestricted use by anyone. The U.S. copyright statute gives an author control over a copyrighted work for a certain period of time (see “Term of Copyright”). After that time is up, the work is considered public domain.

Synch Rights Synchronization rights. The right granted by copyright owners allowing a song to be recorded on a soundtrack for television or motion pictures or to be used as background music within a television or motion picture production. The on-screen images are often synchronized with the song, thus the phrase synchronization – or synch – rights.

Term of Copyright The amount of time for which a copyright is in effect. For songs created after December 31, 1977, the term lasts from the moment a song is written until the death of the songwriter, plus 50 years. If more than one person is involved in writing a song, the copyright on that song will last until 50 years after the death of the last living songwriter. If a song is written as work-for-hire, anonymously, or under a fictitious name, the copyright will last 100 years from the date the song was written, or 75 years after the date it is first published. Copyright owners also have the right to assign their copyrights to their heirs or any other person or business, and it is the right and responsibility of those persons to arrange ways to exploit the song, should previous publishing contracts or licensing agreements expire.

Work-For-Hire A form of copyright that removes ownership from the actual author of a work. According to the Copyright Act, in the case of work-for-hire, the work belongs to the employer of the actual author, since the work was done within the scope of his/her job. Copyright cannot be legally assigned to the employer without a signed, written contract stating that the author relinquishes the copyright; verbal agreements will not hold up in court. The work-for-hire clause usually refers to advertising jingle writers more than songwriters.

Work Any product that can be copyrighted – musical, dramatic, visual, or literary.

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