Who owns the copyright to a song?

Who owns the copyright to a song?
When you talk about a song—like the kind you hear on the radio—there are actually two independent copyrights, each of which can be owned by one or multiple people. For a thorough overview of how “authorship” is determined in the world of songwriting, it would be a good start to first consult the section “Who owns the copyright of a song that I wrote with someone else?”
After determining what the default rules for who owned what during the songwriting process, the question doesn’t stop there. The rights could’ve been assigned to someone else (like a record label). Certain band members could have been contractually disclaimed any credit to the song, even though they contributed creative input to the song. The complications that may change the ownership of a song are so varied that its literally possible that anyone could own full or partial rights to the song.
That’s why, in practice, it’s best to simply ask.

Amongst the usual suspects who may own the publishing rights in part or in full are: 
  • The composer
  • The composer's employer (if the song was created as part of an employment relationship)
  • The patron who paid for the composition (classical works done as “work for hire” arrangements, for example)
  • Another creative contributor 
Amongst the usual suspects who may own the rights to a sound recording in part or in full are: 
  • A record label 
  • A studio engineer
  • Various session musicians
  • The composer’s employer or patron
Finally, the owner may have released the work to the public via a license like Creative Commons or express abandonment into the public domain. [Wutzyerproblem]

As you can see, all of these variables makes the question of “who owns the copyright to a song” difficult to answer. 
If you’re concerned that you may not fully own the copyright of a song that you wrote with another person, you should be.
If you are a creator who needs to track down the party that owns the rights to a song, or if you’re a musician with questions about how copyright law affects the ownership of music you make, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.

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