It’s very important to consider the protection of your music if you are interested in shopping your songs around to be performed. But for many songwriters, the issue of how to properly protect those songsis muddled at best. What do you do to be certain that dishonest people don’t steal your songs?
Most of the confusion regarding song protection comes from a misunderstanding of what copyright actually is.Once you’ve written a song (or any work of art) you are automatically the copyright holder. It does not require a special application to a government agency to be a copyright holder. If you wrote a song last night, you are the copyright holder.
The problem is that copyright can be contested by someone else. So what can you do to affirm to everyone else that your song is in fact yours?
The best advice is to register your copyright with your national government’s copyright office. There is usually a fee for this. In North America you can expect to pay approximately $35-$50. Once your song is registered in this manner, your song is protected: its registration can be used in court if someone argues that they wrote your song. And in fact, your national government is required to help protect you if someone tries to steal your songs.
Do not rely on what is commonly called “Poor Man’s Copyright”, which is sending a copy of your song to yourself by registered mail, and then not opening the envelope.There has never been a case of a court accepting this kind of “registration.” If you really want to protect your songs, you must register them.
At $35 per song, this can get expensive if you are at all a prolific composer. So here’s a better idea: Make a collection of a dozen songs, put them together within a book, and place a copyright notice at the bottom of the first page of your collection (Example: [© copyright 2008, John Brown].) Then register the copyright of this collection. All of the songs within the collection will have the protection of that registration.
If you are an American songwriter, simply visit the US Copyright Office website. They have all of this information and more. There are also good sites for songwriters of other nationalities: Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Australia. For all othercountries consult this list.