Songwriters, What Are Others Doing To Your Songs? You Have Rights.

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.

Posted in Copyright Issues and tagged , , , .


  1. “This happens frequently at political rallies or corporate meetings. You have the right to refuse the performance of your song”

    Umm, this does NOT happen frequently. In almost every case the political candidate or his staff has filed the paperwork and paid the fee for the use of a published song to be used. (Especially at the national level) The artist does not have legal recourse or legal right to refuse the use once the proper paperwork is filed with compensation.

    It would be awesome if you went into how to use other songs for various uses. Ie, who to contact or how to find the information to change a song to be used as a cover, or just to use the songs as a DJ or at a meeting or whatever.

    Thanks much.

    • I wonder if I might have stated my point in a different way. When a political candidate or staff has filed the paperwork, they’ve likely done it correctly. It’s when they don’t file the paperwork that problems occur, and that’s my point. I think I worded it to sound like political rallies are frequently misusing music, which is probably not true. I think the point I was trying to make was that when abuse occurs, it’s likely to be an over-zealous staff member at a rally or a convention.

      To change a song (for example, to use an existing song in a commercial advertisement) would require the permission of the copyright holder. For DJs, my understanding is that it is the responsibility of the venue in which the DJ is working to pay royalties and not the DJ him/herself.

      Thanks very much for your comment!

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