Reader Questions & Answers: Copyright, Permission, and Licensing

by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan

File Under: Reader Questions and Answers, Understanding Your Legal Rights, Getting Licensed and Generating Royalties

We continue to get great questions from readers and while many of them are specific to their situation, some of these questions cover topics many musicians can benefit from. When those happen, we like to share the answers in the DIY Advisor column. Today's question is about copyright, permission, and licensing. 

Q: I'm a performer/songwriter in Nashville who has written a few albums and licensed a few songs. One of the songs I wrote was with a collaborator. We co-wrote the song, did the split sheet, and registered the copyright of our song. We split both the composition and sound recording 50/50. We now have an opportunity to license the song and my collaborator doesn't want to because of who is asking to license it. So, my question is whether one songwriter can license a song over the other songwriter/copyright owner's wishes?

The DIY Advisor: In short, the answer is yes -- in the U.S., once you own a copyright, one owner of a copyright can grant permission to license a song as long as that license is nonexclusive. It doesn’t matter what percentage an author owns.

As we discuss in detail in The Indie Band Survival Guide (Remixed & Remastered: Second Edition), the rules of copyright don't allow people to use your music composition or sound recording without your permission. So the licensor is right to seek permission from you and your co-writer. However, in the U.S. the licensor only needs one owner's permission as long as it's nonexclusive. Having more than one author is known in legal-speak as "joint ownership". As a joint owner (yes, that's the term, although most musicians would be thinking something totally unrelated), you can decide to license a song over the objections of the other joint authors. But any money from the deal must be split according to the ownership percentages. Just because you're the only one who gives permission doesn't mean you get all the money.

So, in this case, if you license both the composition and sound recording to the licensor (which would likely be two different licenses by the way), then you'll need to split the money you make 50/50 as defined by your registered copyright ownership percentages.

Note that this is really only true in the U.S. Many countries outside of the U.S., such as Canada or the U.K., recognize “moral rights” in their copyright law. Moral rights allow any owner of the copyright to prevent the use of their song for something they disagree with.

If you have more questions about copyright, we recommend the Your Rights chapter of The Indie Band Survival Guide (Remixed & Remastered: Second Edition) and the Lynda course Music Law: Copyrighting a Song by Richard Stim.

If you have any questions, you can write us at 


#Licensing #Copyright #Permission #Infringement

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