How to Copyright Your Music

How do you best protect yourself and your songs in the online and global community? You get a copyright license, of course! These handy-dandy bits of protection allow you to safely upload your music to databases, allow other singers and bands to make covers of them (with you getting a cut of what they make), and most importantly, grant you the top protection the law can give in case someone steals your music.

Let’s walk through some basics of copyright, talk about myths surrounding it, and go through how to copyright your music, step by step.

Grab your headphones and put on your favorite playlist so we can dive in!

How to Copyright Your Music 101

Copyright is the lawful ability (right) to make copies of any of your works. Hence the name: copy-right. What this means in practical terms is that you as the author (creator) of the work of music, art, writing, etc. hold the only lawful right to perform and record and copy your work without getting permission from anyone.

In order to qualify for a U.S. copyright protection, you must create work passes three tests.

  1. Make something original that you (or a group) created
  2. Write it down or otherwise record it so you can share it
  3. Be creative

Now, this is all fine and dandy. But how does this apply to musicians? Why should you care?

Holding a copyright of your music opens up a lot of doors for what you can and cannot do with your music. As you are the legal rights holder, you alone can grant permission for your song to be used by others via a mechanical or synch license. It also allows for you to have extra protection in court if someone hears your amazing song, decides to write something almost identical to your own, and then make a ton of money from it. If the court decides that your rights were violated, you can sue the copier.

Poor Man’s Copyright and Other Forms of Protection?

The poor man’s copyright says that if you mail a piece of your work to yourself and get it stamped and dated by the post office and then don’t open it up, you have a copyright.

Wrong.

The poor man’s copyright also says that if you post on YouTube or other websites that it is protected under copyright.

Again, wrong.

These are myths surrounding copyright and confuse many musicians. For more info on the Poor Man’s Copyright, you can read my article here. You don’t need to bother with these methods of copyright because of one very simple and not understood fact:

The moment that you create a song, the work is under copyright.

Yes! That means that all your works are protected under U.S. law and you and you alone can create copies and perform your works. If someone wants to use your songs they need your permission.

Remember, the U.S. government is the only place to get a U.S. copyright. Other websites online might try to sell you a cheaper or more expensive version of a copyright but they are trying to scam you. Save yourself and your songs by filing your songs yourself.

Why do we get a copyright? There are several reasons to do so, the main one having the ability to sue for copyright infringement. It is possible to sue for infringement after the act has taken place, but this places an unnecessary delay in the process and the original holder of copyright might be limited in the awards of damage later.

Getting a Copyright Officially

In America, the actual process of registering works is quite simple. The Copyright Office has a website, appropriately titled www.copyright.gov, and on the home page is a large image for you to click through to register a work. Registering online is the preferred method of protecting your work both for the government and for you! It’s quick and easy. However, you must make sure that you have an electronic file available to upload so that your work can be protected.

After creating a login and password, you can register as many works as you need. You simply fill out a form stating what type and when it was created. There is no requirement that you file under your legal name, so bands can register a collection of songs. Make sure to check the box that says “pseudo name” however. The standard fee for uploading is $55, however, if you are registering a single work and you are the sole creator, the fee is reduced to $35. 

And that’s it!

You can still register via paper mail if you prefer, just make sure to have a CD with the songs on it that you want protected. Additionally, you will not get the copies back of anything you send in.

What about copyright protection outside the U.S.? If you’ve registered in the U.S. it is possible that your rights as the owner of the work extend to other countries. To see if they do, you can check with the database at the copyright office, located here.

if you don’t live in the U.S. but have created work while over here, those songs are eligible to be filed for U.S. copyright protection.

After you Copyright Your Music

If you’ve submitted your works online, you will receive an email fairly quickly stating that the process has begun. The time it takes to go from start to finish of processing your works varies at times through the year. I’ve received my official paperwork in as little as 4 weeks and have waited up to 7 months. You can check here for current wait times.

But! Remember that the entire time your works are protected and safe for you to play, record, upload, etc. You don’t need to wait for your paperwork to arrive before using your songs.

You feeling ready to go and copyright your songs now? Did you know that it was that simple to do? And most importantly, can you pinky promise me that you will do this asap to make sure that your songs are protected?

I’d love to know if this article was helpful for making sure you know what to do for songs and copyright. Let me know in the comments below!

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