Copyright Symbol

What Songwriters Need to Know About Copyright Registration

I get a lot of emails as well as blog comments that pertain to copyright. There’s a lot of confusion about what it is, because copyright is a legal term — the kind of thing that lawyers get paid to understand. So you’d be excused for not knowing everything about it if you aren’t a lawyer.

Having said that, I think anyone in the creative arts should do their best to be as informed as possible. One area which you definitely need to understand is copyright registration.

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Every country will have their own specific laws, as well as their own way to describe the protections copyright registration offers. But I think you’ll find this document, from the United States Copyright Office, “Copyright Registration for Musical Compositions,” sums up most countries’ take on this comprehensive legal area.

I won’t simply restate everything here that’s in that document, but here are a few important take-aways. (Again, I’ll remind you that this pertains specifically to copyright in the U.S.A. In quoted passages from that document, the bold emphasis is my own):

  1. “Copyright in a musical work includes the right to make and distribute the first sound recording. Although others are permitted to make subsequent sound recordings, they must compensate the copyright owner of the musical work under the compulsory licensing provision of the law (17 U.S.C. § 115). For more information, see Circular 73, Compulsory License for Making and Distributing Phonorecords.”
  2. A work, once it’s been put into some tangible, written (“fixed”) or recorded form, is protected by copyright. You do not need to register the copyright to have copyright protection.
  3. A work for which the copyright is registered has the benefit of your music being in “the public record”, which can help in infringement cases.

There is a lot more in that document, but it’s only 6 pages long, so I strongly suggest you read it.

You can apply online to have your songs registered. I think that if you plan to do anything with your songs at all, they deserve the protection that registration provides. There is a fee for registration, as well as a deposit.

Registering a “Collection” of Songs

You will want to know that it is possible to register several songs as a collection, with one filing fee, as long as the copyright owners for all the songs is the same. There are other stipulations, so you’ll want to be sure to read page 5 of that document.

And one final tidbit of info: for songs written after 1989, it’s not been necessary to include the copyright notice (i.e., ©2017, John Brown). I’ve always felt that it’s a good idea, however, to include a copyright notice for printed copies of your songs. If for no other reason, it shows everyone that you claim ownership, authorship, and that you’re likely to rigorously defend it.

If you are not a citizen of the U.S., you’ll likely find a similar document by doing an online search for your country and the words “copyright office music.”

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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