The term of copyright protection in songs with lyrics, where the music and words are written by different people, usually expires at different times, depending on the dates of death of the composer and the lyricist. The copyright in the music would expire 70 years from the death of the composer. The copyright in the lyrics would expire 70 years from the death of the lyricist.

An EU Directive, implemented in the UK with effect from 1 November 2013, changes this. The new law provides that where the music and lyrics of a song are composed and written in collaboration by different people, to be used together (a work of co-authorship), the term of copyright in each will expire at the same time. That is, 70 years after the death of the last surviving of the composer and lyricist.

This applies to works of co-authorship created after 1 November 2013 and to works of co-authorship where either or both of the music and the lyrics were in copyright at that date. For example, if the copyright in the music of a song had expired before 1 November 2013, but the copyright in the lyrics had not, the copyright in the music is revived as from 1 November 2013 and will expire 70 years after the death of the lyricist.

The owner of the revived copyright in a work of co-authorship is the same person or company that was the owner of the copyright immediately before it expired. But if that person has died or, in the case of a company, ceased to exist, the ownership of the revived copyright will revert to the composer or lyricist of the work or his or her beneficiaries.

There will be no infringement of the revived copyright by virtue of:

  • Any act done before 1 November 2013 whilst copyright did not subsist in the work. 
  • Any act done after 1 November 2013 pursuant to arrangements made before that date at a time when copyright did not subsist in the work.
  • Issuing to the public after 1 November 2013 copies made before that date at a time when copyright did not subsist in the work.
  • Anything done to the work after 1 November 2013 where the copyright owner cannot be found by reasonable enquiry.