10 Quick Tips For Safeguarding Your Songs

Without protection, you can be giving people opportunities to steal or exploit your music. Here’s how to safeguard your songs.


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International Copyright SymbolAny song you write, and in fact anything you write, is automatically protected by copyright. There is no need to apply for it. Unfortunately, owning the copyright on a song does little for you if someone disputes that you are the author. And it does nothing to protect you or help you if someone takes your song and uses it for their own purposes without your permission. So copyright, as a defence against unscrupulous people, is rather useless to you in legal terms.

What you need to do is to register the copyright of your song, and then you’ve got something that the legal system will recognize, and you’ve got something you can fight with.

There is so much myth circulating in the songwriting world concerning copyright and protection that it’s worth taking the time to understand the terminology. There are ways to protect yourself. Here are some tips and information that can help:

  1. It is not necessary to place the international copyright symbol (©) at the bottom of a written copy of your music in order for copyright to apply. Copyright is automatic. That being said, placing the copyright symbol, along with the statement, “All Rights Reserved”, can indicate to others that you plan to vigorously defend your copyright.
  2. Mailing a copy of your music or a recording of your song to yourself, even by registered mail, will not be enough to protect your music if you need to take someone to court over ownership of your music. There’s never been a case of this form of protection standing up in a legal battle.
  3. Registering your copyright with your country’s copyright office is the best protection you have. It can cost around $50 to do this, but it is recognized by the legal system as an official statement of authorship. The best way to keep the costs down is to assemble several of your songs into a book, and register the copyright of the book. Registering within three months of publication, or before the date of an infringement, can allow you to collect damages in a successful court case.
  4. If you don’t have your songs in a written format, you need to copyright a physical recording of it. So get it into a physical form, such as a CD or DVD.
  5. If you find someone using your music, or music that sounds very similar to yours, your best first step (and certainly easiest) is to send them a letter requiring them to stop immediately. Sometimes people will use your music without thinking that they’re doing anything wrong, especially if they aren’t making money from it.
  6. If you find poetry online that you want to use in your music, you need to contact the copyright holder. Don’t assume because you’ve seen it posted online that it’s in the public domain. It usually isn’t.
  7. Titles of songs and chord progressions are not protected by copyright. So you can use the same title and chord changes as another song without fear of copyright infringement.
  8. If someone uses your music, either online or in a publication, without your permission, but gives you full credit for your music, they have still violated your copyright. Giving credit doesn’t allow someone to use your material, and is still a violation of copyright.
  9. If someone uses your music without your permission, and claims that they’re in the clear because they aren’t making money from it, they have still violated your copyright. Whether or not they make money is irrelevant to the issue of copyright.
  10. Copyright can be shared between several individuals. If you’ve written a song with another individual, it’s typical to do a 50-50 share of the copyright. But 50-50 is not a rule in the industry. You can work out whatever percentage you feel is fair. Be sure to get that agreement in writing.

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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