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Understanding trademarks, copyrights and licensing

On Behalf of | Sep 1, 2021 | Entertainment Law |

As a music artist, you need to protect your work. While you may have a manager or agent to handle such things, it pays to have a basic understanding yourself. There are too many stories of artists getting ripped off by people they thought were looking out for them.

Your income will typically depend on more than one source, so you may need to use different methods to protect different things.

Copyrighting and licensing protects your work

Copyrights and licensing rights were traditionally the most important things to put in place as an artist. You need to copyright the songs you write, both the lyrics and the composition. If you write the words and your bandmate writes the music, you might each need separate copyrights. Once you establish ownership, you need to be clear about who has a license to use your work.

Band members can fall out, and many famous bands have ended up in court over who owns the songs and who has the right to use them or determine what they are used for. One example is the Sex Pistols — some members were happy to see their songs used in advertisements. Others thought it was selling out their punk principles.

Trademarks protect your image

The need to trademark your image is nothing new. Branded merchandise has always been part of a band’s income, and you would not want someone using your logo or image to make money without your permission. Yet, that is what happened to Metallica in Chile. A businessman registered the name and logo there, preventing the band members from selling their own merchandise for 20 years until, in 2019, they overturned an earlier decision in his favor.

The best time to seek legal advice as an artist is before you sign any contracts. While you cannot guarantee your music will succeed, failing to establish the proper legal bases could guarantee your success will benefit someone other than you.