Benefits When You Copyright A Song
If you want to copyright a song, you're probably thinking about Registration of your song with the U.S. Copyright Office. But, there is a difference between Copyright and Registration of the Copyright.
Technically, you can have a copyright before a song is registered. Whenever a musical work is created and fixed in some tangible form on paper, CD or tape, the writer has a copyright. Failure to register in a timely way, however, carries legal and economic penalties which can limit streams of income and hamper your ability to take advantage of opportunities.
Registration vs. Registered Mail
Many songwriters, musicians, bands and other creators of music use registered mail to send copies of their songs to themselves. This procedure, known as the Poor Man's Copyright or Poorman Copyright, is thought to be an adequate replacement for Copyright Registration with the appropriate United States federal agency.
It's NOT. The Poor Man's Copyright will not allow you to effectively enforce your copyright. Thankfully, doing it right is not expensive.
To Register you will complete specified forms, meet a deposit requirement with the Library of Congress, and pay a small fee. The process is not too complicated.
In just a few minutes you will discover and fully understand the basic concepts of music copyright law. The odds of meeting your music career goals will skyrocket because copyright rules are a great roadmap for the flow of revenue in the music industry.
Plus, you'll impress the hell out of your friends and you will never follow all the lousy advice inevitably dished out when someone wants to copyright a song.
So let's take a head-on direct look at some copyright rules. They're not scary. They won't turn your hair white.
Benefits Of Registration
Registration brings a bag full of goodies.
You can elect so called "statutory damages" against anyone who infringes on your work. These automatic damage awards can be as high as $150,000.00 for each infringement on your copyright.
Without Registration you can't even initiate the infringement action in Court to stop someone from using your song without authorization.
Sometimes Registration is mandatory. Sometimes it isn't, but even there the rules penalize those who don't do it.
Registration links your copyrights to certain royalty payment systems set up under the Copyright Act. You can collect royalties from Compulsory Mechanical Licenses.
These royalties do NOT have to be paid when the copyright owner (or their unwary manager) fails to Register the song.
It surprises some songwriters and musicians to learn that once a song is recorded and released, other artists have the right to record it. Over time, the monopoly rights to your own music are limited. Compulsory Mechanical Licenses exist because of the limitation on your monopoly rights.
If you Register your copyright, anyone using your work must pay you for EACH recording they make.
Over time these royalties can become the most valuable of the rights bundled into the copyright of your song.
Registration, the ultimate of music copyright solutions, is really just a process of defining a few terms. So, let's do that, and have some fun along the way.
By the way, the talented lady above is my client and friend Vicki Tetreault, a performing songwriter in Quebec City, Canada. Vicki uses our firm to register all her songs in the United States. A copyright protected by a U.S. Registeration is enforceable throughout the world. (Photographed by Brigitte Theriault)
Published vs. Unpublished Songs
In order to properly Register you need to know whether your song is "Published". You also need to determine WHEN it was published.
The 1976 Copyright Act defines Publication as distributing music to the public by sale, lease or other transfer. If you give others the right to sell or distribute your music, the song is considered Published.
Some examples: All those songs at CD Baby are Published. Songs on those demos you sell at your shows are Published. Songs transferred to internet music sites are probably going to be considered Published, especially where you authorize downloads by copyright assigment. (Check out the fine print on those download sites.)
Let's look at Unpublished work. Obviously, if the song is just sitting on your hard drive it's Unpublished. Sending your work to a record label so they can listen to it is NOT Publication. Sending your songs to the Library of Congress as part of the Registration process is NOT Publication. Performing a song at a showcase or public forum or local pub is NOT Publication.
If you commercialize a song by offering copies of it, it will be considered Published.
You need to know this. The application form to copyright a song includes a box for the date of Publication, in other words, the date you first offered copies of it for sale. You have to fill in the exact date, not just the year. If you can't remember, get it close. You should be able to figure out the month and year you first started selling the song(s). Then pick a date in that month and you'll be fine.
Also, the Certificate of Registration requires you to confirm the nation where the song was first Published.
If the song(s) are Unpublished you only know the year of creation of the work.
"Thanks For The Info: But I Want To Know How To Copyright My Music Immediately."
Okay, got the memo: Here's the brass tacks: Along with the form you have to deposit copies of the song(s) with the Library of Congress. If the song(s)s to be Registered are NOT published, you will send just one copy, either on CD, tape or as sheet music. For Published works it's two copies.
Registration is mandatory for any Published song. There is a monetary fine specified in Section 407 of the Copyright Act which defines the Deposit Requirement. But, it is VERY doubtful the copyright police are ever coming to collect. The benefits you lose by failing to register are penalty enough!
For convenient and inexpensive music copyright solutions, use online copyright registration.
If you go and Register now, feel free to come back and learn how, where and why money flows in the music business. There's more of those photos taken by Brigitte Theriault of a great artist, Vicki Tetreault, plus we have important info on the different types of authorship interests you can have in a song (it's more than you might think ), we give away a free contract form to cover your buttocks (figuratively of course), and we do a wrap up for joint works which you folks in bands might find interesting.
We understand; you're an artist, not a lawyer. But believe this: The more music industry types you meet, and the more fans you have, it will help to know when someone starts talking business out of their...ear.