The Implications of Foreign Copyright Law

While our focus in this publication is United States copyright law, certain provisions of foreign copyright law are particularly relevant to creators and owners of musical copyrights and will be briefly touched on here.

“Joint” or “Collective” Works

In the United States, a song written by two or more authors is deemed to be a “joint” work regardless of whether one author composed the music and one author wrote the lyrics or all authors wrote both music and lyrics. This has historically not been the case in certain major foreign territories including Australia, England, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scandinavia, and South Africa. In these “non-joint” countries where one author writes lyrics and one author composes music, the music and lyrics are each deemed to be an independent contribution to a collective work. The copyright, in this case, runs individually with each of the music and lyrics.

In September 2011, the European Parliament and Council of the European Union adopted a Directive requiring the EU Member States to adhere to a uniform term of protection for musical compositions with words that will expire 70 years after the death of the last to survive of the author of the lyrics or the composer of the musical composition.1 Each EU Member State is required to pass legislation implementing the Directive, which is to apply to “all such works in protection at the date by which the Member States are required to transpose this Directive.”2 It is not clear whether the Directive requires Member States to retroactively grant copyright protection to the portion of a composition (e.g., the lyrics or the music) which has fallen into the public domain prior to the passage of the implementation legislation. Each country’s implementation legislation will need to be analyzed in order to determine the impact on individual compositions.

The status of a work as “joint” or “non-joint” may have implications with regard to duration of copyright, allocation of royalties, and reversionary rights, so it is important to monitor the status of implementation legislation in the EU Member States on this issue.

Duration of Copyright

Outside of the United States the duration of copyright protection is generally measured by a term of years after the death of the author. In countries in which all songs are deemed joint works, the term is based on the date that the last author dies. In countries in which only songs for which all authors both compose and write lyrics are deemed joint works, the term of protection for “non-joint” compositions is measured individually for each of the composer and the lyricist. The following summarizes the current term of copyright protection in several major foreign countries. Note that the term of protection for works currently deemed to be “non-joint” in EU Member States may need to be recalculated once the respective state passes legislation implementing the September 2011 Directive. This list is not complete, and you should check the individual laws of each country.

Australia: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work); provided, however, that if an author died on or before December 31, 1954, then the duration of copyright is the life of the author plus 50 years
Canada: Life of the last author to die plus 50 years
Denmark: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)
France: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years
Germany: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)
Hong Kong: Life of the last author to die plus 50 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)
Italy: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years
Japan: Life of the last author to die plus 50 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)
The Netherlands: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)
New Zealand: Life of the last author to die plus 50 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)
Norway: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)
South Africa: Life of the last author to die plus 50 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)
Spain: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years
Sweden: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)
United Kingdom: Life of the last author to die plus 70 years (measured separately for each author of a “non-joint” work)

In each instance the copyright subsists through December 31 of the final year of copyright protection.

Copyright © 2012 by Lisa A. Alter, All Rights Reserved.
Third Edition. Lisa A. Alter, Esq.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Directive 2011/77, 2011 O.J. (L. 265) (EU).
  2. Id. at 3.