Copeland was born in Rif Dimashq near Damascus, Syria, the second of four children born to CIA officer Miles Copeland, Jr. and his wife Lorraine Copeland (née Adie), an archaeologist. His older brother Miles Copeland III founded I.R.S. Records, and younger brother Stewart Copeland was the drummer in The Police. He also had a younger sister, Lorraine (nicknamed "Lennie"), who is a writer and producer.
After a wayward youth growing up in the Middle East, where he was part of a gang involved in petty crime, Copeland enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War. He was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant at age 19. He served with distinction and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal amongst other decorations. It was during his tour of duty in Vietnam that he earned the nickname "Leroy Coolbreeze". Although Copeland later had misgivings about the Vietnam War, he was proud to have fought for his country.
Copeland began his career in the music industry with the help of his brother Miles, first as a tour manager for Wishbone Ash, and then as a booking agent in London at John Sherry Enterprises, where he discovered the Average White Band and other artists. In 1977, he moved to Macon, Georgia to work for the Paragon Agency booking tours for rock groups. Ian and Miles developed a strategy of using small venues and clubs to break the British band Squeeze in the North American market, a formula they would repeat with other bands. Around this time he also helped his brother Stewart write the lyrics of the song "Nothing Achieving", which became the B-side of The Police's first single "Fall Out".
In 1979, Copeland founded Frontier Booking International (FBI) in New York, a talent agency that represented many of the premier new wave acts of the 1980s, including the B-52's, The Cure, The Police, Simple Minds, The English Beat, and The Go–Go's. The agency grew to include hundreds of diverse musical performers on its roster (the Buzzcocks, Nine Inch Nails, Concrete Blonde, Iggy Pop, General Public, Charlie Peacock, Let's Active, R.E.M., Sting, Morrissey), as well as representing actors. The music division of FBI was merged into InterTalent Agency in 1992, and Copeland moved to Los Angeles soon thereafter.
Copeland married Constance "Connie" Walden of Macon, and they had two daughters (Chandra and Barbara) before divorcing.
Copeland's other romantic partners included FBI client Marianne Faithfull and his former FBI receptionist and step-cousin Courteney Cox, with whom he had a three-year relationship in the 1980s after his divorce from Connie.
Along with his brothers, Stewart and Miles, Ian was honoree and recipient of the Humanitarian Award from the AMC Cancer Research Center in 1985. The awards program noted:
Seventeen years ago, the first AMC Humanitarian Award went to Judy Holliday, a brilliant musical star and actress. Tonight, we are proud to continue the tradition and honor Miles, Ian, and Stewart Copeland and their famous, and often times infamous, contributions to the music and entertainment industry. Early in each of their individual careers, the Copeland Brothers were considered mavericks – the new frontiersman. Miles, attending to music management; Ian, involved as a music agent; and, Stewart, a talented composer, engaged as a drummer in The Police – all were iconoclasts. While they were bucking the established institution, practices and attitudes of the music industry, they were on the cutting edge of pioneering "new music" into the United States. Their methods, once scorned, are now imitated. It is fitting that we pay tribute to the Copeland Brothers and their pioneering spirit.
Copeland published an autobiography, Wild Thing, in 1995. In 1997 he opened the Backstage Cafe bar and restaurant in Culver City  which he owned and operated until his death from melanoma at age 57. He was buried at the Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles.
- Nelson, Valerie J. (May 25, 2006). "Ian Copeland, 57; Booking Agent for New Wave, Punk Bands, Including the Police". Los Angeles Times.
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- Billboard – Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. November 9, 1985. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
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- Ian Copeland, Wild Thing: The Backstage, On the Road, In the Studio, Off the Charts Memoirs of Ian Copeland, Simon & Schuster, 1995.