The Music Industry & the Complexities of Intellectual Property Laws in the 21st Century 

copyright or patent concept, intellectual property

Original content and musical performances are so easily accessible today that they are almost ubiquitous. If we want to hear a song, we simply go to YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, or any number of platforms where we can listen to the song at the push of a button. 

This easy access makes it easy to forget that all that content that inspires us and gets us dancing, is the intellectual property of somebody. It is someone’s creation, brainchild, musical progeny. That person might be a professional artist signed with a music label or they might be someone in their own studio producing original works.  

The law of intellectual property applies to all of these creators in the same way.

The Changing Landscape of Intellectual Property in Music 

Before we get to some specifics, let’s address some of the ways that today’s music landscape has changed drastically in 20 years. The profound sea change in the way that people consume music has changed in conjunction with intellectual property questions. 

Intellectual property liability across multiple sectors and industries presented serious challenges as the internet surfaced. In the early days of the internet, people were just beginning to discover the sharting potential that would soon explode into a culture that became accustomed to free access to everything. 

A little more than twenty years ago, a little venture called Napster would go on to change the music industry forever. Unbeknownst to the head executives of giant record companies, the rug was about to be pulled out from under them. The age of CDs and gold rush record companies was soon to lose its grip on the music industry. Napster was created by a 19-year old computer hacker who worked up a way to share music for free. The basic concept was the software would search a person’s music library and facilitate the sharing of said music files with others. The idea operated by people opening up their music libraries to others, allowing for a way to file share. 

A Heavy Metal Bands Steps In 

The record labels were taken aback, but one of the early voices against the service was the heavy metal rock band Metallica. In April of 2000, the band filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement, racketeering, and unlawful use of digital audio interfaces. This was only the beginning. 

The band tracked down the names of more than 300,000 fans that had shared their music and asked Napster to ban them. The software company complied, but Metallica fans did not take lightly to this move as they saw it as a personal attack against them. 

Many music experts suggest that, in hindsight, the record companies should have been smarter in their dealings with Napster. In short order, other file-sharing software— like LimeWire— also crept up and changed music sharing forever.  This software was similar to Napster in that it connects individual computers to each other. 

Only the Beginning of the Digital Revolution 

Not long after Napster began to fade, Steve Jobs came up with the idea of iTunes, finding a way to charge for music while maintaining the easily accessible format. All of this was only the beginning of the digital revolution and how it related to the music industry and questions of ownership and copyright. It took the music industry a good decade or so to learn how to self-correct and become profitable again with the internet. 

YouTube emerged on the scene soon after and continued to present challenges to musicians, creators, and record companies on how to prevent the illegal dissemination of creative works and, at the same time, use the power of the internet to reach millions of people. 

Deciphering the Differences Between Copyrights & Patents in the Music Industry 

One frequent point of discussion is the confusion that exists around how to copyright a piece of music. Copyrights and patents are a big part of the music industry as it involves people claiming the right to their musical creations. So what’s the difference between a copyright and a patent? 

Let’s start with the basics. 


They protect artistic works. This can include things from photos, books, and songs. Copyrights are automatic when the work is created, but if you register your creation, it will have stronger legal protections. As soon as the work is fixed in some tangible form, a copyright is created, but it is not required to register these works in order to have some form of protection. 

Copyrights have six exclusive rights that include reproducing the work, distributing copies, performances of the work, the creation of derivative works, details dealing with digital transmission, and the display of the work. It is precisely these exclusive rights that made business models like Napster so problematic. 


A patent in music is rare unless it refers to a novel musical instrument, software, etc. They do exist, however, as new musical instruments are always being developed and improved upon. 

Know the Law, Protect Your Original Work 

Today, many musicians or creators may have questions about protecting their creative works and original creations. The law can get complicated and it’s not always easy to decipher, but knowing how to best protect your intellectual property can save you headaches down the road. 

Do you want to learn more about how to protect your intellectual property? Call Cynthia Lopez today!