Basics of music rights

Basics of music rights

In the US, music licensing is made possible by the protection that US copyright law provides for artists. Learn more about how to use licensed music, and how to protect your own work.


Copyright Protection for Music

Copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects original works. For music, there are several components that can be copyrighted in any sound recording of a song:

  • actual sounds themselves;
  • notes that the musicians play to create the song, which can be in the form of sheet music; and
  • lyrics for the song, which can be in the form of writing.

Copyright protection begins when your song is fixed in a tangible medium (ex: it is recorded on your computer or uploaded/streamed to Twitch).

Licensing My Copyrighted Music

In the US, music licensing is made possible by the protection that US copyright law provides for artists. A license grants an individual or organization the right to use a copyrighted work, within the scope of the license.

For example, an artist who performs their original song on Twitch may retain the copyright in their song, but also sell the rights for someone to use the song in another work (ex: they use your song in a video game or a movie). Licensing allows for these rights to be granted on a limited basis, e.g. for a specific show, or limited to a certain geographic region.

Licensing the Copyrighted Music of Others

Other artists enjoy the same copyright protection in their work, and playing their music or using their lyrics will require permission from the author. Read our guide on playing background music while streaming to learn more.

Some music is released as copyright-free, meaning that the author has given permission for their work to be used by others. To learn more about finding copyright-free music, read our guide on where to get copyright-free music for your stream.