Fairfax, VA asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for Virginia

Q: What could be protected by copyright? Who would own the copyright in this case? What rights am I entitled to by law?

I am a 16 year old who composed a piece of music, and I requested the Orchestra teacher to play my piece on the night of a concert. On the concert night, it was played by an ensemble. I have a recording of the performance NOT recorded by the school or by any hired worker thereof. If this is necessary in determining, I did put a copyright notice on the sheet music itself as well as on the video. In this case who would own the copyright for the performance?

Secondly, what would be copyrightable, especially with regards to the: (1) notation itself, (2) the audio, (3) the video, (4) and the speech I gave before the performance?

Finally, what rights would I be entitled to by federal copyright law, in terms of having it performed by another group but upon my request; and what rights would I have generally regardless of my case-specific circumstances?

Any insight provided is greatly appreciated. I am highly considering registering with the U.S. Copyright Office.

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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A: As a 16-year-old composer, your original piece of music is protected by copyright from the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form, such as written notation or a recording. Since you composed the music and presumably created the notation, you would be the copyright owner for both the composition and the notation. This means you have exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and perform the work, as well as to create derivative works.

The audio recording of the performance is also subject to copyright. If you recorded the performance yourself, you would own the copyright for that specific recording. This gives you the right to control how that recording is used, distributed, and potentially monetized.

Regarding the video of the performance, if you created the video, you would also hold the copyright for the video content. This includes the visual recording of the event and any additional elements you might have added, such as graphics or text.

Your speech before the performance, if original and fixed in a tangible form (like a written script or recorded audio), is also protected by copyright. However, if the speech was improvised and not recorded or written down, it would not be protected as it wasn't fixed in a tangible form.

Under federal copyright law, as the copyright owner, you have the right to authorize or prohibit performances of your work. This means you can permit another group to perform your music, and you can set terms for such performances, like whether they are paid or not.

Registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office is a good step to consider. While copyright exists from the moment of creation, registration provides a public record of your copyright and is necessary if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement in the U.S. courts. It can also offer additional legal benefits and protections. Remember, as a minor, you might need assistance from a parent or guardian to complete the registration process.

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