By Cheng Leong Foong, Rachel Fung
13 March, 2019
As the Internet continues to transform the landscape of the music industry, its players have to navigate and find their place in it.
While the age of the Internet has brought new and exciting ways for musicians to reach wider audiences for example through music streaming or sharing sites, it has also brought its own set of problems such as online piracy and widespread unlicensed use of music. It is in this environment that any artist needs now more than ever to understand how they can take charge of and better protect their work. This article seeks to share the intellectual property laws that are important for any artist to know and more importantly, the practical steps you can take to protect your music in Malaysia.
1.Protect your copyright
This is the most basic and important area of law for an artist. Copyright exerts your ownership over your creation and it is what gives you the host of exclusive rights you have over your music, such as performance, reproduction and distribution of it. There are two main types of copyright in music. The first is the composition copyright which protects the melody and lyrics of a song and belongs to composers, lyricists and publishers. The second type is the sound recording copyright. This protects the recording itself that has been made of a piece of music and usually belongs to the performers and maker of a recording. Be clear on which copyright you are dealing with and what belongs to you.
An interesting point to note is that copyright in fact comes into existence upon the time of creation of your work without you having done anything further. However, your creation must be in a tangible form such as sheet music, lyrics you have written down or a sound recording. Hence an idea in your head or even a freestyle live performance cannot be copyrighted.
Further, even though copyright exists upon creation, should you be faced with any dispute over the ownership of your work in the future, proving that you have the copyright in the work is another matter. There are a number of simple ways you can be prepared for this.
In Malaysia, the best and preferred method is to simply notify the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO) of your copyright. This is a lot simpler than it may first seem and is also a more secure method for if you ever have to prove your copyright before a court of law. All it involves is filling up a form called Form CR-1, making a statutory declaration that you are the owner and/or author of the work and details of the work, and depositing a copy of the work with MyIPO. MyIPO’s website (www.myipo.gov.my) is very helpful in this respect as it provides samples of the form and statutory declaration needed and even has an easy to follow flowchart of the process. Application costs are reasonable with fees starting from RM35 for an application.
Another alternative method is called the poor man’s copyright. This involves placing into an envelope a sample of your created work, sealing it, and mailing it to yourself using registered mail. The key is not to open the mail when you receive it and to keep your proof of postage. This mail package then becomes proof that you created a particular work at a particular time.
The modern day version of this would be uploading your music to a website such as Facebook, YouTube or Bandcamp as your uploads would carry date-stamps.
2.Make trade marks work for you
While copyright law involves the protection of creative works, trade marks are more to do with your branding. Trade mark protection refers to the protection of a sign, word or phrase which helps to distinguish your goods from those of another. Trade marks will thus likely be most relevant to music artists in respect of band names or logos and particularly with regards to merchandise. Think the Rolling Stone’s tongue and lip logo. According to a recent poll, this legendary logo is now the most iconic T-shirt design of all time.
When first coming up with a band name, it may be worth checking to see if a possible name you have in mind is already listed or not on the WIPO trade mark database. This is to ensure that you do not pick a name or logo which is identical or similar to that of another music artist and hopefully avoid the possibility of any trade mark infringement troubles in the future.
If you are at the stage of considering to expand into merchandise with a band name or logo printed on it, then you may wish to consider registering your band name or logo as trade marks. Registering logos or names as trade marks however is a more expensive and complicated process than registering copyrights. Hence it is advisable to seek some legal advice in this respect to find out what is the best option for your situation.
3.Become a member of a music licensing society (hello royalties!)
Music licensing societies help to license the use of music and provide royalties to their members when their music is played, performed or broadcasted in any way. In Malaysia, the sole licensing body is now Music Rights Malaysia (MRM), which then distributes the fees and royalties collected to its member bodies such as Music Copyright Protection Berhad (MACP), Recording Performers Malaysia Berhad (RPM) and Public Performance Malaysia (PPM). Thus composers, lyricists and publishers should still sign up for membership with MACP, while recording artists can sign up with RPM. MACP and RPM membership forms can be downloaded from their websites respectively.
4.Spell things out
As with any relationship, communication and setting things out clearly is important. You can think of this step as a “music pre-nup”. Where a piece of work is a group effort, have a talk with your co-authors to establish which part of it they own. An easy example would be in a lyricist and composer duo where the lyricist owns the copyright in the lyrics written and the composer owns the composition. If you are thinking of signing to a recording company, spell out clearly your rights in your music. Thus in the (hopefully unlikely!) event of an Oasis-level breakup, knowing your rights and positions clearly can help prevent future copyright squabbles.
5. Talk to an intellectual property lawyer
Finally, where you still have questions on your intellectual property rights or what is the best option for you, have a chat with a lawyer. Besides advising or assisting you on the steps above, a good lawyer can also help check through any contracts that you may sign with a recording company for example to ensure that your rights are protected.
In the mean time, keep making music and remember to protect it well!
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR(S)
Foong Cheng Leong is an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court of Malaya and also a registered Malaysian trade mark, industrial designs and patent agent. He is the author of the book, Compendium of Malaysian Intellectual Property Cases. He also writes at www.foongchengleong.com.
Rachel Fung graduated from King’s College London with a Law LLB, where she first developed an interest in intellectual property law. She is called to the Bar of England and Wales and the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak. She is currently chambering at the boutique IP firm, Foong Cheng Leong & Co.
First published on Music Press Asia on 8 March 2019.