How, What, When – Protection of musical works in Denmark

The music industry is a multi-billion dollar industry consisting of a wide range of different players, and lends itself to the exploitation of copyright through a sophisticated commercial system. If you focus on Denmark in particular, the scene is no different. But how are musical works actually protected in Denmark? The aim of this article is to answer that exact question by providing an overall introduction to the protection of musical works in Denmark and summarising "the how", "the what" and "the when" to ensure protection is obtained.


The How?

How are musical works protected in Denmark?

Original musical (along with other ‘artistic’) works are provided automatic protection in Denmark by virtue of the Danish Copyright Act. The Danish Copyright Act defines, among other things, which works are protected, establishes the extent of the protection, specifies who is granted copyright in the work and contains rules on how copyright can be transferred to another party.

The scope of the Danish Copyright Act is to provide copyright protection to a wide range of literary and artistic works, including but not limited to:

  • Works of fiction and works of non-fiction, whether expressed in writing or speech;
  • Film works;
  • Musical works;
  • Stage works;
  • Photographic works;
  • Works of visual arts;
  • Works of architecture; and
  • Works of industrial design.

The What?

What part of the musical work is protected pursuant to the Danish Copyright Act?

“Musical works” is quite a broad category and includes both songs in their entirety, parts of songs, notes and lyrics. It also includes preliminary work, such as drafts of lyrics or musical notation. Since preliminary work is also protected pursuant to the Danish Copyright Act, a musical work does not need to be finalised to be covered by copyright protection.

Not all preliminary work is protected – an idea will not be protected by the Act, no matter how elaborate the idea may be in your mind. It is not enough to come up with a great idea for a song; it needs to be acted on, shaped with lyrics and notes and manifested in a way that enables other people to experience it in order to be protected.

Writing a song and composing a melody is not necessarily enough for your song to be protected by copyright. Musical works have to comply with the fundamental requirements set out in the Act. This means that your song has to be made through your personal and creative efforts and must have originality. This basically means that your song will not be protected if it is the product of routine or ‘craftsmanlike’ work – it needs to have a certain level of uniqueness and stand out. In practice, the threshold, which must be overcome in order to trigger protection, is not very high – even musical works of a poor quality are protected!

The When?

From which point in time are musical works protected and for how long?

There are no formal requirements that need to be met before obtaining a copyright pursuant to the Danish Copyright Act. If your musical work has been made by you through your own personal and creative efforts, possesses originality and has been recorded in some form, your work will be protected by copyright from the moment it is created.

As a general rule your musical work will be protected by copyright throughout your lifetime and for 70 years after your death. If you have created your musical work with a co-creator, the copyright will be held jointly by the two of you. In this case, the 70 years protection will start at the time of death of the last surviving co-creator.

The Neighbouring Rights

What are these and how are they protected?

In addition to the classic literary and artistic works which enjoy protection by virtue of the Danish Copyright Act, the Act also safeguards artistic performances and creations which are not “works” in a traditional copyright sense, nor as the term is defined in the Act. These are called “neighbouring rights” and can be found in chapter 5 of the Danish Copyright Act, which extends by reference much of the protection and regulation applicable to literary and artistic works.

Neighbouring rights are of special relevance for the musical industry as they protect an artist’s performance, including a recording of the artist’s performance, and a producer’s sound recordings regardless of whether the producer is a physical person or a record label.

The rules on the protection period applicable to neighbouring rights slightly differ from those applicable to (literary and artistic) works of copyright. As a general rule, neighbouring rights enjoy protection for a period of 50 years after the right has been established, e.g. by the artist’s performance or a sound recording. However, if an artist’s performance or a sound recording is published within the protection period of 50 years, the work enjoys protection for a total of 70 years from the date when it was first published. It is important to note that the rules regarding copyright protection of neighbouring rights can be tricky, so it may be worth seeking advice on the right in question.

The Bottom Line

In summary, if you write a song (lyrics and/or musical notation etc.) and wish to ensure copyright protection in Denmark, so no one else may use your song without your permission, you will need to:

  • Make sure it is a product of your own personal and creative efforts;
  • Ensure it has a certain level of originality; and
  • Act on it – record it in a way so other people can experience it for themselves.

This post was written by Josephine Rønnau Kølving and Mogens Vestergaard.

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