Do You Own Your Own Music? | A Guide For Producer's Who Need To Know

When you find yourself wondering if you own anything after a production, your best bet is to research what copyright is and what you may have accumulated on it before sending out those cease and desist letters to non-authors or overstepping your ground on matters that don't apply to you.

Copyright law in Australia is heavily based on the original English law act drawn up when the printing press first came into effect. It's come a long way since then, with technology influencing new amendments and giving new rights that protect things like texts, paintings, sound recordings and film. Since the copyright act is so extensive, I'm going to keep this blog squarely focused on music producers.  

Who owns a Sound Recording? 

The short's who ever paid for the recording to be made or whomever owns the equipment or studio it was recorded in. In a lot of cases it's a record label or independent artist. If you worked on a production and no money changed hands, then you would be the owner, but in a limited sense.

As a producer on a sound recording you will be able to re-produce or broadcast those sound recordings, but will not have rights to the lyrical content or any moral rights. A sound recording by law is the master tape or master rights which is the reason we call our final bus in a DAW 'master'. The terminology we use today is set in the past, but is still relevant in the age of computers and online piracy, so read up on your rights and be informed.  

  • A producer owns part or all of the copyright in the sound recording
  • No one owns the ideas in a sound recording
  • A sound recording copyright doesn't cover literary, moral, performance, choreography or broadcast rights
  • An audio student can use their recorded work for display in a student portfolio
  • Copyright starts when work is produced and is valid for the life of the musician and 70 years after death.

Sampling Music: What I need to Know

The rule of thumb when using samples of pre-recorded music is, you need permission. The way to get that permission is to ask. The way to ask is to find out who owns the copyright to that work and get in touch. A simple email is technically enough for a permission provided they say yes of course. 

What if it's only a tiny part of the song?

That would depend on how substantial the sampled part is. To put it into context, a simple drum beat is not always a recognisable part of a sound recording, so go for it. On the other hand, if we are talking about a main hook within the  song, you can bet it's protected and you will need to ask the holiest of holy's if you can use it.

In 2008, Australian band Men at Work were taken to court by Larrikin Music (Who seemingly don't exist on the internet, for some reason!) for a flute riff that appeared on the bands' most iconic song 'Land Down Under'. The riff was a direct copy of the equally famous children's song, 'Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree'.

Another not so publicised court case saw Eminem's publishers taking a NZ marketing company to court, for using the hook to the song 'Lose Yourself'. The video below shows a court case in New Zealand which sums up just what can happen if someone steals a hook without permission. 

The practice of asking for permission is also a great way to collaborate and make the original creator of the music feel a part of the production. If you feel like you're not sure weather you need permission for something like this, you probably do, so just ask. A lot of the time musicians are interested in re-creations or remixes of their work and the worst that could happen is you will need to ask someone else. 

Can the Artist Get a Copy of the Session if They didn't Pay For It?

Once again the person that paid for the recording owns it, so if the artist didn't pay then they are not entitled to receive anything other than what's been agreed upon. I recently ran into this problem when a band wanted all the session files from a production I worked on, however the band did not pay for it. Long story short, it ends in bruised egos and would have benefited from a pre-agreement studio contract. This was a huge learning curve for me, because it taught me exactly what my rights are in the studio and how to deal with a complex situation when working with friends. 

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons allows artists to share, remix and release work commercially with certain attributions attached to it. For example, if you release a song that has used samples from another creators work, you must attribute them by mentioning you used their work. This doesn't apply to all copyrights though and is only relevant to work that has been released under CC (The abbreviation for Creative Commons). Check out this great video below that uses music to describe how Creative Commons works. 

Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself

  • Use contracts

  • Ask for permission when sampling

  • Take advantage of Creative Commons

  • Write down studio notes and photos for evidence 

  • Know your rights!




CC and the Arts. (2018). Creative Commons Australia. Retrieved 14 April 2018, from

Copyright Act 1968. (2018). Retrieved 14 April 2018, from

Creative Commons Music License Explained. (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 14 April 2018, from

Eminem's 'Lose Yourself' played for lawyers, judge in New Zealand court | Newshub. (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 14 April 2018, from

Music Rights Australia - Copyright FAQs. (2018). Retrieved 14 April 2018, from

Music Rights Australia - Fact Sheets. (2018). Retrieved 14 April 2018, from

Comparison of Down Under (Men at Work) and Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree. (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 19 April 2018, from

Eminem. (2018). Eminem. Retrieved 19 April 2018, from

Kookaburra gets last laugh in Men At Work case. (2018). ABC News. Retrieved 19 April 2018, from

Larrikin Records and Larrikin Music Founder Speaks Out | Warren Fahey. (2018). Retrieved 19 April 2018, from

Office, C., Copyright?, W., & Broadcasts, S. (2018). Sound Recordings and Radio Broadcasts : Copyright OfficeCopyright Office. Retrieved 19 April 2018, from

What are Master Rights and Publishing Rights? – Customer Feedback for rightclearing. (2018). Retrieved 19 April 2018, from