by Ram Samudrala from Twisted Helices
Now you have a cool studio and you’ve come up with a great band name and recorded a bunch of songs you consider brilliant. Are you losing sleep worrying about people “stealing” your music or your band name? Do you need to have a label to release music?
Current copyright law says that you own the rights to a work when you create it. Thus if the rights to use your work ever comes into question, you just have to be able to prove in a court of law that you created your stuff (first). What copyright registration does for you is give you the ability to present concrete evidence in a court. As a friend of mine said “someone came up with a scam to make money `selling’ copyrights”. But, if your work means something, get it registered. It’s very easy and it’s only $20. You can get the forms and more information from the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress.
Contrary to popular belief, you can’t copyright names. You can register a trademark, or more appropriately a service mark, for them. But the service mark rights, like copyrights, by default belongs to the first person who uses it in practice. As does the right to register to it. Registering a service mark is kinda expensive. But you can get the forms, and more information, from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
ASCAP, BMI, etc., are performing rights organisations. They collect royalties for music performed that is written by you. The BMI and ASCAP pages have a lot of relevant information on this topic, much more than what I have here. Check it out!
Generally, if you’re the only artist being distributed, there is no need to have a label. However, there are some advantages to going the label route, and certainly some advantages to treating the whole thing as a business, in terms of tax breaks and the like. This is a route I’ve chosen not to pursue a variety of reasons, primary one being that it doesn’t do anything for me. However, see the Going Legal section in the Simple Minds Guide to putting out records, and the articles section in IndieCentre for more information.