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Your 6 Rights As The Copyright Holder & The 2 Parts of Every Song

Do you understand your rights as the copyright holder? 

When the word copyright gets thrown around, it always seems to carry a negative connotation as if to say something terrible is going to happen if you don’t do it. 

This isn’t exactly the case.

For starters, you don’t exactly need to rush out to copyright your music. As soon as you create the work, you do technically own it.

While this little known fact may be true, it opens the door for a number of myths and misconceptions related to copyrighting your music.

However, if you don’t take the time to understand the benefits of copyrighting your music and learn exactly how to register your copyrights, this will limit what actual protection or proof of ownership you will have.

Your 6 Rights As The Copyright Holder & The 2 Parts of Every Song

If you want to pursue any sort of legal action or opt into a legal settlement (over royalties from DSPs for example), registering is required. It can take 3-7 months or you can do a rush filing for 22x the cost (approx. $800) and get the registration in 5 days.

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That $800 is per copyright – so $800 for the sound recording and $800 for composition, $1600 in total. A bit steep for waiting last minute.

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Secondly, you are copyrighting an income-producing asset, which means that you, as the rights holder, have the right to exploit these works in ways that are beneficial to you and others. This will also be dictated by the details of your copyright agreements and the breakdown of your ownership.

When you hear about those messy situations labels and artists get into, it usually boils down to copyright and the fact that the artist has given away control by signing their copyrights over to the label.

Ever hear an artist boast about “owning their masters” ? 

Well, this is in direct relation to copyright, and when you have control, you can decide what happens with your music. When you don’t have control, that power is in someone else’s hands.

Your Rights As The Copyright Holder

When you file your copyright, this grants you several privileges which include the right:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords – This could be as simple as uploading music to a website.

(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work – In this scenario, it relates to making modified or different versions of your music.

(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending – Something as simple as distributing your music to streaming platforms or selling physical CDs.

(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audio-visual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly – Essentially, doing live shows or any public performance with your music. 

(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audio-visual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly – Similar to a public performance but focuses more on the visual aspects of your creations (music videos for example).

(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly through digital audio transmission – Similar to the distribution of your music, but more so relates to granting the permission of your sound recording to be used on streaming platforms and other outlets that may use your music, like radio stations, for example.

While the examples above have been stated as the rights you have when you file your copyright, also consider that this means you have the right to allow others to exploit your creations in similar ways as well. 

If you have not granted anyone this permission, then we get into situations of infringement, which could be as simple as requesting the person to stop what they are doing, permitting them to continue or seeking damages. 

In a case where the copyright owner sustains the burden of proof, and the court finds, that infringement was committed willfully, the court in its discretion may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $150,000. (Cornell Law)

Knowing your rights is very important but it is also important to know what you actually have control over which brings us to our next topic.

Each Song Has TWO Copyrights

Now that you know what rights you have as a copyright holder, there’s another crucial element to consider, which is the fact that there are always two parts to a song known as the Composition and the Master Recording.

The Composition

The Composition Is the original idea of the song put in some tangible form, such as lyrics and chords written on paper. Essentially, you can think of this as the music and lyrics of a song. They’re typically owned by songwriters (which could also be the artist) or publishers.

The Master Recording

The Master Recording: Is the final audio recording of a song, also known as a mechanical reproduction of the composition. Again this can be summed up as a recorded version of the composition (or, of the music and lyrics). These are typically owned by the artist or the record label.

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Ownership of either component results in entitlement to different types of royalties. Depending on your situation, you’ll most likely own the rights to both the composition and the masters. 

However, someone who may have signed a record deal usually gives up the right to their masters to the record label. 

This means that any associated royalty and the authority to make decisions on the previous list of rights would be dependent on the type of ownership you have.

Furthermore, ownership of either would grant royalties from various places, which are briefly mentioned below:

Money Owed From The Composition or Master Recording


These make up a good portion of your income and consist of some of the options listed below. When your music is sold as a CD, downloaded, or streamed, you are owed a mechanical royalty. You can collect these through your music distribution service, but keep in mind Performance Rights Organizations do not collect these for you.


The way that we consume music has evolved, and most of your fans rush to platforms like Spotify or Apple Music to enjoy your work. When this happens, royalties are earned and can be collected through the music distribution service that you use.


Similar to streaming, but less popular, are digital downloads of your music. These pay more than streams and allow for more permanent access to your music without the need to have an internet connection. Again these can be collected through your music distributor.

Physical Sales

While physical CDs and Vinyl are not as common, they can still make artists a good income. These prices are determined by you as long as you are the copyright owner. If you have signed away your copyright, you will most likely have less say in what prices will be.

Neighboring Right & Digital Performance Royalties

In the United States, these monies come from the likes of satellite and internet radio. Think Sirius XM or Pandora, respectively. 

Royalties generated on these mediums are reserved for the owner of the master recording copyright. These are collected through a company called SoundExchange. 

However, outside of the U.S., there are differences. Internationally, Neighboring rights are geared towards what is known as Terrestial Radio (AM/FM Radio) and not recognized in the U.S. 

Meaning you will need to seek the help of a performance rights organization to help with collection if you make music outside of the U.S.

Sync Licensing

This is money earned for getting your music placed in a commercial, film, or any other medium. Typically you get paid through negotiating a deal with whoever is requesting to use your music. 

In a lot of cases, you may be working with a publisher or a company that offers sync licensing services, which may take a cut of the deal if they help you land the placement.


Money is generated on YouTube through advertising and the use of a Content I.D. software that identifies the use of your music on the platform and attributes royalties to you based on ad clicks. This money can be collected through some music distribution services or a publishing administrator.

Social Media

When you use a music distribution service, they now have options allowing you to distribute your music to platforms like Instagram or TikTok. When your music is used on these platforms, you earn royalties that can be collected from the music distributor you’ve chosen.

Sampling, Cover Songs & Remixes

When someone wants to use your music, they need to get your permission. You can negotiate a deal for the use and grant a license for other creators to use your music. Again, this is another scenario where the services of companies like the Harry Fox Agency and Easy Song Licensing will be of benefit to artists.

*In most cases, money is owed to both copyright owners (owner of the composition and the master recording) except for Neighboring rights and digital performance royalties, which are for the owner of the master recording.

To learn more about how to register your copyrights or to create copyright agreements you can follow the links below:

>>> Related Reading: Learn How to Easily Register Your Copyright

>>> Related Reading: Learn How To Easily Create Copyright Agreements

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