Copyright talk can get extremely confusing.
This is my attempt to keep things simple and give you a practical step-by-step guide you can follow to protect your songs.
By the end of this post you will:
- Understand why music copyright is important.
- Make the difference between copyright ownership and copyright registration.
- Figure out if you need to register your music copyright or not.
- Learn how to copyright music in a fast, affordable and efficient way.
Let’s get right into it.
1- Why Is Copyright Important?
The people who own the copyright of a composition and sound recording are the people who determine what can be done with that music.
They are also the people who get paid when that song or sound recording is performed, reproduced or sold in pretty much any shape or form.
In other words, the copyright owners are the ones who make decisions and make money.
If you need a quick reminder of the distinction between a composition and a sound recording, head over here.
2- Do You Have To Copyright Your Music?
As long as it’s original, your music is copyrighted as soon as you write it down or record it on a tangible medium. On paper or in an audio file for example.
There’s nothing else you need to do to become the proud owner of a music copyright!
If someone else ever copies your music without your authorization, maybe you’ll want to file a suit for copyright infringement.
At this point, I’m assuming you’re not interested in pursuing negotiations outside of court and you have the money to advance legal fees 😉
For Works of Non-U.S. Origin
Chances are you can go ahead and sue even if you didn’t register your music with the U.S. Copyright Office.
You are most likely protected by the Berne Convention and should be ok as long as you can provide evidence of when you created the original work in the first place.
As I write this in January 2019, Wikipedia tells me there are 176 signatory countries to the Berne Convention out of 195 countries in the world.
Having said that, it can’t hurt to ask your local Performance Rights Organization about copyright best practices in your part of the world.
For Works of U.S. Origin
Registration with the U.S. Copyright office is mandatory if you want to enforce your exclusive rights of copyright on a work that was created in the U.S.
In addition, in order to be eligible for statutory damages and attorneys’ fees, your music must be registered PRIOR to the infringement or within three months after publication.
3- Should You Copyright Your Music?
Arguments AGAINST Copyright Registration
- it’s boring;
- it takes time away from your music;
- there are other ways to establish the creation date of your work;
- you might not even need it!
Check out Dan Lieberstein’s notes in the comments section. A very good reminder that friends and family are a much safer bet than the “poor man’s copyright” in court, i.e. sending yourself a recording of your album in the post is NOT solid proof of date and is unlikely to help you in litigation .
Arguments IN FAVOR OF Copyright Registration
- you can register your entire catalogue in one go and be done with it;
- you’ll get an official document that dates your work;
- it’s only $55 online to register a full body of work;
- you’ll probably hate yourself if you don’t do it and end up needing it….
Whatever you decide, decide and roll with it!
Copyright registration is fairly straightforward and affordable. Please don’t use it as an excuse to keep your music locked away from the outside world…..
4- How To Copyright Music?
Again, let’s be precise and specify that we’re REGISTERING a song with the U.S. Copyright Office here.
Your Copyright ownership is established as soon as you write down or record the song.
As a side note, registering your song with a Performance Rights Organization is something entirely separate. Make sure you do that so your P.R.O. can pay you when your composition is performed in public!
So…. How Do You Register A Song With The U.S. Copyright Office?
Well, you head over to the U.S. Copyright Office’s website and create an account with them. That’s free.
The Library of Congress is the only organization that can deliver a legit Copyright Registration. If you’re trying to keep your options open for a potential lawsuit, might as well go legit 😉
Then, you’ll need to decide on what you want to copyright:
— A composition? You’ll need a performing arts application.
— A sound recording? You’ll need a sound recording application.
— Both??? No problem!
You’ll need to fill out a sound recording application and specify in the application that the claim covers both the underlying work and the sound recording.
Let me show you exactly how that works….
How To Copyright Music, The Step-By-Step Video Tutorial
In the following video tutorial, I’m assuming:
1- you want to register a full album in one go; and
2- you want to claim both the composition and the sound recording copyrights.
I sure hope so!
If not, let me know in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer your questions 🙂