Copyright is a form of property. Under Canadian law, a musical work is copyrighted if its author is still living, or if the author died less than 50 years ago. If more than one author created the work, copyright extends until 50 years after the death of the last surviving author. In the language of copyright, “author” means both the composer of the music and the lyricist. If more than 50 years have elapsed, the work is said to be “in the public domain”. This means that there is no copyright and, in effect, no one owns it. An arrangement of a public domain work, however, is itself copyrighted for the life of the arranger plus 50 years.
The owner of a copyright has certain exclusive rights regarding the use of the musical work. Put simply, this means that he or she is the only person that can make copies of the work or perform it in public, and is the only person that can authorize others to do the same. If a person exercises those rights without the copyright holder’s consent, such use is called an infringement of the copyright and is subject to civil and criminal proceedings.
The person or company which owns or administers a copyright is usually called the music publisher. The publisher represents the interests of the songwriter and works to maximize the revenue of its catalogue of musical compositions. The publisher usually makes a deal with the songwriter for the sharing of revenue. It often happens that a songwriter acts as his or her own publisher. “Music publishing” originally meant the printing and sale of sheet music. Today, although publishers remain, to a limited degree, in the sheet music business, their main task is the promotion of the use of their copyrights through three primary routes: reproduction rights, performance rights and synchronization rights.
A copyrighted musical work can be owned by a person or company in the same manner as any other property. It can be bought and sold, either in whole or in partial shares.
When a copyrighted song is embodied on a sound carrier (such as a record, tape, CD), in an audio-visual production (such a film, television program, commercial), or in a digital file for the purpose of online music distribution or other use, that’s an exercise of the reproduction right in the song. CMRRA’s business is the granting of such permission, on behalf of the music publishers, the collection of royalties and fees in return for such reproduction and the distribution of such revenues to its publisher principals.
Reproduction rights licences are generally labelled according to various uses. For example, mechanical licences are those issued for the reproduction of musical works on physical products. Online licences are those issued for the purpose of online music distribution. Synchronization licences are those issued for audio-visual productions.
When a copyrighted song is played on the radio or television, or performed in a theatre or concert, that’s an exercise of the performance right in the song. Publishers and songwriters get their compensation for such use from SOCAN, a performing rights society which collects revenues from broadcasters and others for the public performance of musical works.