by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
For songwriters, it’s tremendously important to know your rights,particularly if you want your songs to be sung and recorded by others. Sadly, most songwriters don’t really understand this essential part of the business. You might be missing out on money that’s owed to you.
To start with, here are some terms you really need to understand:
Copyright: The right to publish, distribute and/or adapt an original work.
In Plain English: Songwriters, you automatically own the copyright on any song you write, unless you sign that copyright over to a publishing company. You do not need to apply for copyright; it is automatically assigned to you as the creator of the song. (You can and should, however,register that copyright, in case someone tries to steal it or take you to court to contest the authorship of the song.)
Performance Rights: Rights granted by the copyright holder allowing others to perform a copyrighted work.
In Plain English: If you are the copyright holder of your song, you have the right to control whether someone performs your songs or not. Of course, it’s in your best interest to get your music performed, so aperformance right organization helps by acting as an intermediary to collect money from places and/or groups that want to use your songs. ASCAP and BMI are two examples of performance rights organizations.
Mechanical Rights: Permission granted by the copyright holder allowing others to record a published work.
In Plain English: If someone wants to record your song onto a CD and sell it, you are entitled to be paid depending on how many CDs are manufactured. The amount you are owed depends, naturally, on the number of CDs sold.
As a songwriter, you need to be sure that you aren’t being taken advantage of. Here are some common situations that you need to be aware of. And sadly, they’re more common than you’d think:
1) Someone takes your song and changes it. If a performer alters your song in any meaningful way (adds their own music to it, for example) without your permission, that person has violated your copyright. You are within your rights to stop the performance or recording of the altered song.
2) Someone performs your song without your permission. This happens frequently at political rallies or corporate meetings. You have the right to refuse the performance of your song. So especially if your song is being used for a political or other event with which you disagree, it’s important that you inform the user in writing, and ask them to stop the use of your song immediately.
3) Someone records your song without your knowledge or permission. Once you know of the recording’s existence, inform the performer that you are owed money according to the legally-established rate. Small-claims courts may help recoup any money owed to you if you run into problems.