The simplest distinction often tells us all we need to know.
In the music and film worlds there are artists who own the copyrights to their work and those who do not.
The music industry just honored Paul McGuiness, the long time manager of U2. The Edge and Bono praised him with these words:
“We own our own master tapes, we own our own copyrights…we were designed to survive and we were designed for something much harder: we were designed to survive success. And Paul, it was your design.”
When a large record label signs a new artist the label owns the copyrights and the master tapes. Most artists live under this regime throughout their lives.
The movie business uses a similar model. When you make a film for a movie studio or they release the indie movie you have worked so hard to make—the studio owns the copyright.
Control comes with copyright ownership. Control over everything. If the artist owns the copyrights—she/he is in control. If the studio or label owns them-they are in control.
U2 did not own the copyrights to their work when they started as a band. They had to fight for them once they became successful. Success brought them the leverage required to fight and win back control.
U2 believed that control was important for their continued creative and business success.
George Lucas followed a similar path. Fox financed the first Star Wars movie and owned the copyright. When it was successful Lucas decided to finance the sequel himself. As a result, he owned the copyright.
When his distribution deal with Fox came up for renewal, Lucas got back the copyright to the first movie. Only then, would he let Fox distribute the Star Wars sequels. He had leverage and used it.
U2 and George Lucas acquired their own copyrights and bet on themselves.
Today, more musical artists and filmmakers can do the same.
In the past, you could keep your copyright only if you achieved monstrous success and gained leverage.
Today that leverage lies close at hand and can be found before success arrives.
But you have to take the time to notice that leverage and use it.
All of them have created movies and songs that they distribute, market and sell.
And they own them.
Study these creators and the strategies they employed. Everything they have done to connect with an audience lies within your reach.
Each leveraged some combination of the following: Bit Torrent, Facebook, Indie GoGo, iTunes, Kickstarter, Tumblr, Twitter, VHX, WordPress and YouTube. (And some others I am sure I forgot.)
These tools do not require you to sign over your copyright.
If you want real leverage you must combine these tools. One tool by itself is not sufficient.
That combination can yield significant results.
No one teaches artists how to do this. No film school prepares its students for this work. You have to learn on the job.
You might have a manager, a lawyer, a web developer, a digital marketing expert or distributor assist you, but if you want to bet on yourself,
Design for success.
Own your own copyrights.