I am a musician. I want to perform music. I do I do this without being sued into oblivion?
(I am particularly interested in UK law.)
As I understand it, a specific sound recording (of anything) is protected by copyright, but the specific pattern of musical notes that make up a song is also protected (and the rights might belong to somebody different). So even if I don't use any copyrighted sound recordings, if I were to play a song that's recognisable, I would still be sued.
When looking at a song, I believe there are three possibilities:
The song was written so many centuries ago that nobody holds the rights to it any more. (E.g., Bach is presumably out of copyright now.)
You wrote the song yourself, so you own the rights to it.
Somebody else owns the rights to it.
Obviously, it's the 3rd case that presents a problem. In theory, you find out who owns the rights, and ask them whether you can use the song. Maybe they say yes, maybe they say no. In reality, it's not like you can just phone Sony BMG (or whoever) and chat to them about it. And even if you could, they'll want tens of millions of dollars to license the song, which I obviously don't have.
This appears to mean that it is actually impossible to ever play any song that people will recognise.
Am I correct in my interpretation of the law? Is there some way around this problem?