Week 2 – Copyright

In many ways, copyright is an essential and integral part of the music business, in terms of giving the creative process of writing, recording or performance a commercial value. Put simply it has traditionally been one of the main ways in which music ‘artists’ can make money, by a legal assurance (depending on the country) that if a piece of musical intellectual property is used / exploited the maker(s) of that music will be rewarded accordingly. Laing (2004) and Wikstrom (2009) both see copyright as the fulcrum on which the ‘industry’ (or commercialisation) of music balances.

In recent years, thanks to new (‘disruptive’) technologies that have changed the landscape of how music is distributed and consumed, this has become an increasingly difficult area for music artists, producers and labels to manage. Traditional income streams from avenues such as radio play have been replaced by more contentious (and less profitable) consumer technologies such as streaming. Physical copies of music (records, cds etc.) have been replaced by mp3s and wav files. File sharing, ‘piracy’ and streaming, have shifted music from the position of traditional commodification it once held, arguably leading to a culture that places less monetary value on music by consumers themselves. Music Industry responses to online piracy have portrayed file sharers as ‘amoral bandits’, killing the business’, but these ‘infringements’ or ‘thefts’ (as described by Anderton, Dubber and James, 2013) are comparable to BPI’s Home Taping is Killing Music campaign in 1981 and show the perplexities involved in trying to monitor, legislate and ultimately change cultural consumption habits.


Ultimately, whilst copyright laws can protect artists, they can also inhibit creativity. Michael Veal (2007) describes how Dub culture was created and proliferated because of the lack of copyright laws in Jamaica, illustrating the difficulty of monetising music in cultural terms.


  • Anderton, C., Dubber, A. & James, M. 2013, Understanding the music industries, SAGE, London.
  • Cross, Alan, 2016. Retro Fun: The Launch of the “Home Taping Is Killing Music” Campaign 35 Years Ago [online]. A Journal of Musical Things. Available from: http://ajournalofmusicalthings.com/retro-fun-launch-home-taping-killing-music-campaign-35-years-ago/
  • Laing, D. (2004). Copyright, Politics and the International Music Industry. In: S. Frith and L. Marshall, ed., Music and Copyright, 1st Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.
  • Veal, M. E., 2007. Dub soundscapes and shattered songs in Jamaican reggae. Middletown (Conn.): Wesleyan University Press

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