How to Copyright a Song? So, let’s say you have written a piece of music. You are excited to get it out to the public, but are perhaps concerned that someone could steal your lyrics or melody. This brings up the issue of copyright law. Copyright is the exclusive right of the owner to sell, publish or distribute a piece of intellectual property (whether it is music, art or literature).

How to Copyright a Song?

How to Copyright a Song to Build Your Authority

Do I need to Copyright my Song? What is interesting about copyrighting music is that once the song has been created and put in a “fixed form” it is considered automatically copyrighted.  “Fixed form” means that the song has been physically written down or recorded (performing the song does not count). Once the song has been created and put it “fixed form,” it is considered copyrighted for the lifetime of the creator, plus 70 years after their death. A copyright for a “works-for-hire” piece will last for 95 years from the time it was published, or 120 years from the time is was created, whichever is shorter.

A “work-for-hire” song is where the composer specifically created it for a music company or other entity. If a musician is working for a company and they have an employer-employee relationship, it is likely that a song created in this instance would be considered a “work-for-hire” piece. A “work-for-hire” situation would also be created if a work was specifically commissioned by someone. It is important to note that in this type of circumstance, the company or other entity would own the song, copyright and all. The composer will be well aware of this arrangement prior to creating a song, as it is usually set forth in an employment agreement.

The key here is that while the copyright is automatic, you want to be able to prove that you created the song in the first place. If you ever had to appear in court for a copyright infringement case for instance, you would need solid proof that you were the creator of the piece. In order to document this, you must register the song with the Copyright Office.

What are the Advantages of Filing for a Copyright?

It is important to take the time and effort to copyright your work.  There are many advantages to copyright which include:

  •     Registering your music creates a public record of your copyright;

  •     Copyright registration will establish admissible evidence in court that you are the creator of the music;

  •     If you ever need to bring an infringement lawsuit to court, you will need to prove you have filed for copyright protection;

  •     If the registration has been made within a three-month period prior to any publication or infringement there will be additional damages available to you in court (attorney’s fees and statutory damages).

What is a “Poor Man’s Copyright?”

There is a general misconception that one way to prove ownership for a song or other creation is to mail a copy of the work back to yourself.  This is known as a “poor man’s copyright” and does not work! People reason that by using the postage mark on the envelope (proving an approximate date of creation), and the fact that you mailed the material to yourself proves that you created the work. On its face this seems like a reasonable assumption, and it is easier and cheaper than formally copyrighting the piece. In a court of law however, if you were ever required to prove ownership of your song, your “poor man’s copyright” would not be recognized by the court.  It is far better to invest the time and energy (and small filing fee) to go ahead and register your work with the Copyright Office.

How do I register my song?

Click on the links provided to locate the form(s) you will need.  A lot of good general information can be found at: Copyright Office.

Using Form eCO

The Copyright Office recommends using form eCO for most copyrights. Once your completed form is received by the Copyright Office (including the filing fee and a copy of the work being registered) you are considered copyrighted, irrespective of how long it actually takes for the forms to be processed. This form may be used not only for music, but also for literature, visual arts, and performing arts.

This method is the easiest to use, is processed more quickly and has a lower filing fee ($35.00). To file your copyright via the internet, you will need to create a user name and password, and log into the Electronic Copyright Office where you will complete your application and upload your music. Click on Copyright Office - Online Services (eCO: Electronic Copyright Office). Go to where is says “Login to eCO-Electronic Copyright Office.” You will be required to fill in personal information such as name and address, create a user name and password. The process is simple, and once you have your user name and password you can enter the electronic website, where you will apply for your copyright.

Using Form CO

Form CO is a relatively new form, and includes a bar code on the form for faster processing. This form was created to be printed out and completed (as opposed to using the electronic method), and sent to the U.S. Copyright Office with your recording and filing fee. When you click on Copyright Office - Online Services (eCO: Electronic Copyright Office, under “Alternate Methods” you will see where you can print form CO and also other useful information. Make sure to use black ink when completing the form. Once completed, send your completed form, the recording of your song, and with the filing fee.

Include the extension to the zip code “000000” (which designates the submission as a sound recording).

Your creative work is valuable. As such, it needs to be protected into the future. A small filing fee and a few minutes of your time is minor compared to your song being copied and taken away from you.  Registering your work will provide you peace of mind for years to come.

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