The Ultimate Guide to the Poor Man’s Copyright

Have you heard of the poor man’s copyright before? What about the idea that if you post music or videos on YouTube or other websites that your music is automatically copyrighted and is protected? 

The notion of a free or easy to perform copyright has persisted in the music industry for a while. I myself used this technique when I was first songwriting. Little did I know that it was not only wrong, but was totally unnecessary. Today, let’s break down copyright, what it is and isn’t, and how easy it can be for you to copyright your works. 

What is Music Copyright?

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 that is of three qualifiers: 

  1. Be an original work 
  2. Is fixed in a tangible medium 
  3. Work is creative 

Breaking these down, this translates to, have your work be your own, write it down and record it somewhere (that’s the tangible medium part), and make sure that you have put some creative effort into it and haven’t copied anyone else. 

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

Holding a copyright on your music opens up a lot of doors for what you can and can not 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. 

The Poor Man’s Copyright

So how do you go about getting a copyright? 

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. 

So when is a copyright given? 

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

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

But If You Don’t, You’re Still Safe

Until now, I have mentioned that works are eligible for protection that meet certain requirements. However, the one note that I have not explicitly stated is this: It is no longer necessary to register a work officially through the Copyright Office to acquire a copyright. All works created from 1978 until forever in the future are immediately protected upon their creation, thanks to the Berne Convention. 

So. If you don’t need to register your work with the office, why go through all the trouble?

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. 

How to Copyright In America

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. This is the preferred method of registering your work. 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. You will need a digital copy of the work in order to register online. For a recorded song, this is quite simple. 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! 

I hope this cleared up any confusion about copyright. As you can see, it’s an easy step to add to your songwriting routine and opens so many doors to placement of your songs in movies, TV, commercials, radio, and so much more!

Not to mention, it makes any videos you upload to YouTube or Facebook or Vimeo safe from copyright strikes!

So what are you waiting for? Go and signup to get your works protected today! And leave a comment below to share this mini music victory with me.

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