Cover song

Making a Cover Song 

Who actually holds the copyright in a piece of music - artist, record company, composer/producer, artist, publisher or all four?

There is generally more than one owner of rights in any given track. The people who wrote the tune and the lyrics and/or their publishers own copyright in the song, whilst the maker of the recording (typically a record company) owns a separate copyright in the actual recording.

How do I know if a recording is still protected by copyright?

In Australia, copyright in a recording generally continues for 70 years after the year of first commercial release, even if this is some years after the year in which the recording was made.
Before 1 January 2005, the duration of copyright in recordings was 50 years from commercial release.  After changes to the Copyright Act introduced as part of the US Free Trade Agreement in 2005 the duration of copyright increased to 70 years from commercial release.  However, if copyright in a recording expired before 1 January 2005, copyright is not revived for that recording (even if it is less than 70 years since first commercial release). 
From 2019, new copyright duration terms for unpublished works will take effect. This will affect works which have not been made public before 1 January 2019. For sound recordings, the copyright term will be 70 years after the making of the work OR 70 years after making the work public, provided it is within 50 years of its creation.

Currently, if a sound recording made in 1968 was released on 1 January 2018, it would be in copyright until 1 January 2088 (70 years from public release). Under the coming changes, if a sound recording made in 1968 was released on 1 January 2019, it would only be in copyright until 2038 (as the work was made over 50 years ago, it is 70 years from creation, not public release).
A useful indication of whether or not a recording is still subject to copyright protection is the "P" notice which typically appears on CD covers, e.g. "P" 2004 Acme Records Pty Limited.   This notice indicates that copyright exists in the recording (by use of the "P" symbol), that the recording was first commercially released in the stated year (2004 in this example), and that the named person was the owner of copyright at the time the particular CD was manufactured. A recording that was given this "P" notice would continue to be subject to copyright protection until 2074. 

Is it illegal for me to copy and distribute music even if I'm not making money out of it?

The question of whether or not you are copying and distributing music for profit may be relevant in assessing what penalties should apply, but it does not determine whether you are in breach of copyright.   The basic legal principle is that you cannot copy or distribute music without the permission of all relevant copyright owners. 

I have bought a legitimate CD. Is it legal to make copies for my own personal use? 

In the same way that buying a copy of a book doesn't give you ownership rights in the author's manuscript, the purchase of a copy of a CD doesn't mean that you own (and can do anything that you like with) the recording that is on that CD. 

Under legislation passed in late 2006, you now have the right to make a copy of a legitimately purchased recording that you own (eg, a CD or digital file) for playing on different devices for your private and domestic use.  For example, you can, for your private use: 

copy recordings from your CD onto your iPod or MP3 player; and
copy legitimately acquired digital files onto a CD to play in your stereo.

You cannot:

sell, give away (except to family), distribute, perform in public, or broadcast the private copies; 
make private copies from an illegitimate recording (eg. from a burnt CD or from peer to peer files); or

share private copies online.  Uploading or distributing music via the internet without permission from the copyright owner will infringe copyright. 

Is there a copyright on all recordings of music I find on the internet, including music that may no longer be available commercially?

Generally, yes. While some very old recordings may have fallen into the public domain (i.e. those first commercially released over 50 years ago), the vast bulk of those that appear on the internet are still under copyright protection. 

What if I just want to download a few songs to see if it's worth buying the album?

That's fine if you're specifically allowed to so by the holder of the rights. Some commercial sites, for example, will let you listen to clips from particular songs, or sample a limited download of tracks from their service, as a 'taster' of the music. 

Is all file-sharing illegal?  

The vast bulk of peer-to-peer 'file sharing' is considered illegal copying and transmission of copyright material. This is because the owners of copyright in most of the music being shared through these services have not authorised people to make and transmit copies of their recordings. 
However, this is a matter of choice for the copyright owners involved.   It's fine to share a particular song via a peer-to-peer service if the copyright owners for that song agree that it can be copied and transmitted in this way without payment or restriction.

However, most copyright owners do not allow this sort of copying and transmission because they see peer-to-peer activities as hurting sales of music and the livelihoods of people in the business (including the recording artists). 

What if I download music from a site from a different country than the one I'm in, where the law might be different?

Internet activities of this sort typically involve acts of copying, transmission, or distribution in both the country in which the site is located and the country from which the music is downloaded.  As a result, both countries' laws will generally apply.   Copyright owners may choose to take legal action in any country or countries in which an infringer is located. 
Importantly, you should be aware that if you download music files to your PC located in Australia , without the copyright owners' permission, you are committing an infringement of copyright under Australian law.   

Where can I find out more about the different laws on copying and copyright?

What is copyright? FAQs. World Intellectual Property Organisation .

What is copyright? Copyright and the internet. The international legal framework. IFPI .

Where can I look at various countries' copyright laws? WIPO collection of laws for electronic access
Where can I find a basic introduction to Australian copyright laws? Australian Copyright Council website.
The purpose of the FAQ’s published by ARIA is to provide general information only. ARIA recommends that you obtain your own independent legal advice if you have any legal queries or require advice in relation to the application of the law in respect of your particular circumstances.

Find out more