Copyright/Master rights: Understanding Artists' Rights

Copyright/Master rights: Understanding Artists' Rights

Oct 25, 2023

As an artist, your primary focus is undoubtedly creating music. However, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with other aspects, such as music rights, to transform your creations into financial success. Why are music rights important? They enable you to earn money when you share the music you produce. The better you understand your rights, the greater your chances of generating substantial revenue. To assist you in this endeavor, we have prepared a concise lesson on how music rights operate in Europe and the USA. 


Copyright and Master Rights in Europe


Across the 27 European Union member countries, similar laws are in place to safeguard music creators. These laws ensure that two types of rights are associated with a track, protecting its creators, performers, and producers - copyright and master rights.  


In Europe, copyright safeguards the lyrics and composition of a track, guaranteeing revenue for the individuals who own them, such as lyricists, composers, songwriters, and publishers (if involved). This authority over their intellectual property encompasses two "sub-rights" - moral and patrimonial rights.   

Moral rights can't be sold and empower the lyrics' authors and/or composers to decide the work's release, crediting, and usage (e.g., sampling).   

On the other hand, patrimonial rights can be sold (usually to a publisher) and hold particular relevance for artists as they define the scope within which music authors are remunerated. They grant exclusive control over the commercialization of tracks, whether through physical products like CDs, vinyl records or any musical performance.  

To receive copyright royalties, the copyright owners must be affiliated with an institution authorized and equipped to collect them on their behalf. Independent Management Entities (IMEs), such as Bridger, offer this service thanks to partnerships with streaming platforms. Bridger, for instance, collects your copyright royalties in exchange for 10% of your earnings without requiring any subscription or yearly fees. They only get money once you start earning revenue.     

Moreover, established and historical entities called Collective Management Organizations (CMOs), such as SACEM in France, Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori (SIAE) in Italy, or Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE) in Spain, can also assist in collecting copyright royalties for tracks played on television, radio, and public spaces (e.g., clubs). However, subscription fees, yearly fees, and additional charges on royalties may apply, depending on the extent and location of music usage.  


Master Rights:  

In Europe, master rights safeguard the recordings of tracks, ensuring that the participating individuals receive compensation when their recordings are used or played. These individuals can include singers, musicians, other featured artists (collectively referred to as performers), and producers. 

Like copyright, master rights encompass two "sub-rights" - moral and patrimonial rights.  

Moral rights, which cannot be sold, focus on upholding the integrity of the performance and artist names when utilized, such as authorizing or prohibiting a TV program from broadcasting a video excerpt of a live concert.  

Patrimonial rights empower rights owners to authorize or deny the reproduction, distribution, or public communication of their recordings and other exploitations (e.g., movie trailers and ringtones).   

Suppose you are not affiliated with a producer or label. In that case, you must go through digital distributors such as DistroKid, TuneCore, Diggers Factory or Winamp for Creators (a new aggregator of services for artists) to distribute your music online. These platforms handle the collection of your master royalties, typically in exchange for regular subscription fees. On the other hand, if a producer signs you, they take care of these matters on your behalf. However, reviewing your contract with a lawyer is advisable to ensure it addresses all aspects properly.  


Copyright and Master Rights in the United States  



In the United States, copyright laws also exist, but primarily protect the individuals or entities that financed the creation of a track, not necessarily the music creators themselves, but their producers. The copyright holder has exclusive rights to reproduce and broadcast the track and authorize derivative works. These rights are similar to European patrimonial rights since the copyright holder earns income by granting such authorizations.   

However, copyright in the US includes two components: performing rights and mechanical rights. Performing rights encompass the right to perform music publicly. Mechanical rights relate to reproducing music on CDs, DVDs, vinyl records, or tapes.   

Separate institutions manage each component, whereas Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) typically handle both in Europe. Performing royalties are collected by Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) like BMI or ASCAP. Mechanical Rights Organizations (MROs) or Rights Administration Entities (RAEs) manage mechanical royalties.  


Master Rights:  

Unlike Europe, there are no master rights in the United States. In the US, individuals who contribute to the recording process are considered "employees" under contract. Consequently, private contracts primarily govern music rights in the US rather than national laws.    



Collecting music rights is essential for all artists seeking to monetize their music. Also, if you don't, your copyright royalties will be redistributed to other artists after a certain period (referred to as black box royalties). To get them, you can quickly sign up with Bridger and rely on their team to assist you with any inquiries.