Generally speaking, copyrights are not so easy to transfer or to sell: A composer cannot just decide to transfer the copyright of a musical work as such. This is also not possible by means of a contract. However, it is possible to grant others a right to use the work. To do this, a licence agreement is strictly necessary. This must contain the most important information about the scope of use and the remuneration.
German copyright law lasts until 70 years after the death of the author. This means that as long as the composer is alive, the copyright is his and his alone. After his death, it passes to his heirs for a total of 70 years. Only then is it considered “in the public domain”. Then anyone may perform the piece of music in public without permission or remuneration.
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Plagiarism: are cover and remixes plagiarisms? Do you need a special license to publish your cover?
If a musician wants to publish the work of another in his own interpretation or in edited form, he usually has to acquire the necessary rights first:
A cover is a new edition of a piece of music. If lyrics and melody remain the same, musicians have to pay royalties. It does not matter if other instruments are used or if the melody is sung in a different voice pitch than in the original.
In the case of extensive changes to the melody and/or lyrics of the piece of music and if the original work is still clearly recognizable, the consent of the composer is required and a license agreement must be signed.
In a remix, the song is remixed or given new instrumentation. Here, too, the following applies: If the original work is still recognizable, usage rights must be acquired.
If a piece of music is changed in such a way that it is hardly recognizable, it may be used without the consent of the author. This is called “free use”. In practice, however, there is hardly any free use of musical works.
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