Songwriting & Music Business Basics
How do I copyright my music?
Your musical work automatically obtains copyrighted status when it is put in tangible form, such as on CD or on sheet music. Registering your claim to the copyright is the best way to protect it and must be done by filling out the proper forms and filing them with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Registration of your copyright is not required, but it is strongly encouraged and may be helpful in the event of legal action involving your copyright.
Entertainment Industry Attorney, John Beiter, explains Copyright.
With $45 and one copy of your unpublished song on a record, CD, or lead sheet, or two copies if the song has already been published, you can register your copyright in a song by filing a Form PA [Performing Arts]. Song lyrics without music can also be registered whether they are published or not.
You can also use the new Copyright Office online system. Advantages of this system include a lower filing fee of $35, faster processing time, and online status tracking.
Registration is effective when the Copyright Office receives your application, copies, and fee, not when you receive your certificate back, which could be as long as four months later. Although it is not necessary, you may send your Form PA with the proper documentation and fees by certified mail, return receipt requested. The date stamped on your returned receipt will serve as evidence of your effective date of registration.
You may obtain copyright registration forms and more information by writing the Copyright Office: Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559, online at www.copyright.gov, or by calling the Forms Hotline at (202) 707-1900. This number allows you to leave a message requesting the necessary forms.
Can I register more than one work at one time for one fee?
Yes. The Copyright Office will accept registration of an unpublished collection of works for a single $45 fee if all of the following requirements are met:
- Works must be put together in an orderly manner with a single title. Any title describing the collection is acceptable, even one as general as “The Works of [Your Name]”.
- If you send lead sheets, you should fasten them together neatly, or put them in a folder. You can also send a disc containing all the songs instead.
- The copyright claimant for every selection in the collection must be the same.
- All of the selections in the collection are by the same author or, if they are by different authors, at least one of the authors has contributed to each selection.
Only titles of the collection, not the titles of the individual works, will appear listed in the Copyright Office records.
Once you receive the copyright registration certificate for your collection, you have the option to file Form CA. By filing Form CA and listing the individual titles in the collection and for another $45, all of your works will then have individual registrations.
Form CA is also used to correct mistakes on an earlier registration.
I’m an artist releasing my first CD on my own label. How do I go about protecting my music?
Copyrighting your songs is the best way to protect your music (see above). There are two copyright registrations needed. One is for the song (Form PA), and the other is for the Sound Recording (Form SR). You will need to file both of these if you are both the writer/publisher and the record label (you own the master recording—Form SR protects that master).
You should also join a PRO to insure that your writer and publishing royalties will be collected on your behalf. You will not receive any performance royalties until you have established yourself at a PRO and your songs are properly registered. You can bypass the mechanical licensing if you are self-contained (meaning you own the entire record, all of the songs and the recordings) because you would essentially be licensing yourself as the label owner for the use of your own songs. If you are, however, releasing songs written by someone else that have been previously released, you must obtain permission. Contact the publisher of the work to obtain a Mechanical License for permission to record and release their work on your record (label).
As the owner of the sound recording and/or the featured artist who performs on the SR, you need to register with SoundExchange at www.soundexchange.com. SoundExchange is the organization designated to collect digital performance royalties related to the sound recording.
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