Music Copyright Laws

Christian Music Copyrights, Royalty Free Music Songs, Legal Music Downloads

A brief but informative overview of music copyright law and royalty payments. Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this page, especially if you are entering into a music contract or looking for legal advice.

Non-profit organisations - We will consider royalty free use of the songs from this website for non-profit purposes. Make application by sending us an email stating who you are, the URL of your web site (if you have one), and a detailed description of your intended use of the song, and we will consider your request.

This Web Page Answers The Following Questions...

    • What is copyright? Do I need to copyright my songs? How to copyright music.
    • What are royalties? What are the different types of royalties and how are they paid?
    • Recording someone elses song. How to comply with copyright laws and make royalty payments.
    • What happens if an actual sound recording of a song is used as part of a compilation cd?
    • Printed music. What are the royalty payments?
    • What should standard music copyrights notification include?
    • What is "Fair Use" copyright? Can I make copies of my music CD?

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is "the right to copy". The author of the work is deemed the copyright "owner", and they have the right to make copies or license to others this right.

Do I need to copyright my songs? How do I copyright music?
Your songs are copyrighted as soon as they're written, but if you want legal proof that you own the copyright to the song then you need to register it with the copyright office in Washington. This is about $30 per registration, but if you want to protect your songs for less money, bundle them all together and call your collection something like "The collected works of me the songwriter" and get them all registered for one copyright fee.

What Are Royalties?

"Royalties" are monies earned from songs and/or sound recordings from various sources.

Types of Rights and Royalties
Mechanical licenses and royalties - A mechanical royalty is the royalty due from the sale of songs on CDs and cassettes. The royalty is paid to the recording artist, songwriter, and publisher based on the number of recordings sold.

Performance rights and royalties - The performance royalty is paid to the songwriter and publisher when a song is performed live or on the radio.

Synchronization rights and royalties - The synchronization royalty is paid to songwriters and publishers for use of a song used as background music for a movie, TV show, or commercial.

Print rights and royalties - This is a royalty paid to songwriters and publishers based on sales of printed sheet music.

Digital music copyrights - There are now copyright laws and royalties for downloading music over the internet

Recording Someone Else's Song

What must be done to comply with music copyright law? What sort of royalty payments need to be made? How much is paid? How is this done?

Since I live in New Zealand, I will quote from our local industry, but the principles apply worldwide.

Guide to the Audio Manufacture License Application - making audio recordings of musical works (APRA/AMCOS )

"The Commonwealth Copyright Act provides a statutory right to make copies of musical works (the original tune and lyrics as composed and written) onto audio recordings providing: 1. the sole purpose is for retail sale; 2. that a prior notice of the intention to make the recording is made to the copyright owner; and 3. an appropriate royalty is paid to the copyright owner.

The Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society Limited (AMCOS) is a copyright collection society that represents virtually all the music publishers based in Australia and New Zealand for the reproduction ("copying") right and by way of reciprocal agreements with similar societies worldwide many millions of international works. AMCOS acts as the 'copyright owner' in all these musical works for copies made under this statutory right.

If you intend making an audio recording of a copyright musical work you will always require a licence from the person or entity that controls the relevant rights in Australia. In the vast majority of cases, this is AMCOS."

In a nutshell, you must contact your local copyright collection agency and go from there.

However, many artists are independent ( not affiliated with any recording company or music publisher ) hence the collection of royalties is not handled by the relevant collection societies. You must be "signed up" with a record company before AMCOS or any other society will collect royalties on your behalf - they only deal with the record companies and music publishers. ( To qualify as a "publisher" you must have a "catalogue" of artists and not just be "publishing" your own works. The collection agencies do not represent individuals. )

So, unless the artist is world famous and obviously has a recording contract, if you want to use their song contact them and find out if they are independent artists. If they are then you can negotiate some agreement with them for royalty payment on a personal basis. If you want to base this on the going rate in the industry at large then here are the rates:

( Note: If a song has never been recorded before, the owner of the song must first give permission in order for it to be recorded that first time. Once a song has been recorded, anyone can record it as long as the mechanical royalties are paid. Often there will be a deal worked out in which a songwriter/publisher may agree to allow a recording for less than the standard rate. It used to be that anyone could record another person's song without their permission, but you still had to pay the royalties that were due. However, this is no longer true in most situations. It is a little more complicated. It depends on the country and other factors, but in general it is best not to just help yourself and pay later. You must contact the copyright holder of the song first before proceeding with any project that utilises their intellectual property. It is always good advice to contact an intellectual property lawyer before proceding.)

The royalties are calculated differently depending on where you live.


In Australasia the royalty is 5.6% and on a pro rata basis this means you pay approx 14 c per song per cd sold (assuming there are 10 songs on a cd witb a RRP $25 ) Royalties are paid at point of manufacture to the copyright holder, and not as cds are sold.

So if an artist records another persons song, and the parties agree to the industry royalty payment of 5.6% you do a simple calculation on a pro rata basis. If the artist has 10 songs on the cd, and the cd sells for $25, and he manufactures 1000 cds, he pays the owner of the song 0.056/10 songs x $25 x 1000 cds = $140


The current statutory rate for a U.S. copyright is 8¢ (US) per song. ( effective January 2002-2003. The rate is changed every 2 years (even years) in January. It will go up every two years until 2006, at which time it will remain at 9.1¢ per song until changed. For more info on this refer to and

So, what would be the US equivalent of a royalty payment for an artist wanting to use one song on an album? With the current (2003) rate of 8c (US) per song, the calculation would be $0.08 x 1000 cds = $80 (US) This is roughly the equivalent of the Australasian royalty calculation depending on the current exchange rate.

How to legally sell cover songs - CD baby has some great advice here.

What Happens If An Actual Sound Recording Of A Song Is Used As Part Of A Compilation CD?

The AMCOS 5.6% mechanical royalty is the rate if the artist RE-RECORDS your song, NOT if your actual original sound recording is used as part of a compilation cd. This is negotiated differently. To my knowledge there is no standard industry rate, so the whole thing is negotiable between the parties concerned.

Printed Music. What Are The Royalty Payments?

PRINT INCOME: Print royalties are paid to the song owner that granted the print music license. ( In the professional music industry that is usually the music publisher but in your average indie artist situation that won't be a publisher - that will be the writer of the song ) The print licenses are usually non-exclusive and limited to three to five years in duration. For a single-song sheet music, publishers are usually paid 20% of the marked retail price.

What Should A Standard Music Copyrights Notification Include?

There are two copyrights involved when making use of a song. One is for the music and lyrics and the other is for the recording of the song. This explains why you find two copyright symbols on any tape or cd. "C" and "P"

Music and lyrics
For the first copyright there is the international symbol © ( If you're trying to type it on your computer go to WORD / insert / symbol / choose Lucida console font - you'll find it there. Copy and paste! ) You add the date the music was composed, then the name of the composer, or publisher if a publisher is involved. Address, and other contact info is included.

If someone elses song is being used then obviously their copyright information must be used with the usual "used by permission".at the end.

For example, anyone wanting to make use of one of my songs would be required to have the following information associated with the use of that song. With CDs it would be printed on the liner notes after the song lyrics. In the case of printed sheet music it would be printed at the bottom of the page.

© 2003 Ray Watson - The Secret Place
P.O. Box 27 077, Mt. Roskill, Auckland, New Zealand.
All rights reserved, unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.
Used by permission.

I also request people add my website address :

If you are recording a song, you should also include the other copyright symbol. Unfortunately my computer cannot make this symbol, but it consists of a "p" with a circle around it, just like the © symbol. The date and the band/artist's name should also follow this symbol, just like the © symbol. This circled "p" symbol means that you are claiming a copyright in the sound recordings on the cd.
Hence any artist owning the copyright to a song and recording that song for the first time should have something like this ......

© & P 2003 Ray Watson - The Secret Place
P.O. Box 27 077, Mt. Roskill, Auckland, New Zealand.
All rights reserved, unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.

Anyone wanting to make use of the actual sound recording of an already recorded version of a song ( for example on a compilation cd ) would need to include the above copyright notification plus the words "Used by permission" at the end.

What Is "Fair Use" Copyright? Can I Make Copies Of My Music CD?

In 1992, Congress passed the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA). This is the law that allows you to make an audio recording for your own, noncommercial use. Do not assume this applies outside the USA. More info

Linking Disclaimer

We generally provide links to other websites as a service to our visitors who may be interested in further information or resources. While we try to add extra value to our site by only linking to those sites that we feel are appropriate and do add value, by providing links to other sites, Secret Place Ministries does not guarantee, approve or endorse the information or products available at these sites.

More Info Copyright Information Music

Poor man copyright, copyright downloading law music, copyright infringement music online.

Click on "copyright" on Sharesong's links page and you'll find every link you ever needed on copyright.

Church copyright license - christian copyright international licensing. How to license a song for church use.

How stuff works - royalties, copyright

Music law

Intellectual property music law music copyright infringement

Standford University Libraries - Copyright and fair use overview

Legal christian music downloads

The MP3 legal controversy - The Audio Home Recording Act - Fair Use copyright - bmi license music, ascap license music

Hope this helps!
Ray Watson


I am not a lawyer, please don't mistake the above for legal advice. This site is not intended to be legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed attorney. Further, this site does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. No guarantee or warranty, express or implied, is given with regard to the current accuracy of any information provided and we shall not be liable for any damages or liability whatsoever arising from the information provided herein. We strongly recommend consulting an entertainment attorney before entering into an agreement of any stature.

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