How To Copyright Songs:
The Nature of Authorship
When songwriters and musicians ask how to copyright songs, they should consider the various "Authorship Interests" which are part of the copyright.
Copyright law breaks down musical works into various parts. When you know what they are, you know how to protect all of them.
"So...How Do I Copyright My Music?"
First, define the nature of your Authorship. This is not particularly hard, but most song copyright information sources on the net gloss over or ignore this important subject.
You write and record a song - that's great. What do you own? What are you the author of? What parts of "your" authorship are exclusively yours?
In most cases, there are four parts of a musical work in which you can have an authorship interest:
1. The Music
2. The Lyrics
3. The Performance session where the song is RECORDED
4. The Production and/or Engineering of the Recording
The last two, recording and production are curious. Read on to discover how to copyright songs AND keep the engineer and the studio from obtaining authorship interests in your work. Don't unwittingly give away intersts in your work.
Let's say you come up with some great tunes and dynamic lyrics. Next you assemble some musicians and run down to your local studio so the world can hear your work.
What have you got?
Parts 1 and 2 above, the music and lyrics, are the underlying work. Those are yours and you can Register your copyright interest.
Parts 3 and 4, studio performances and engineering, relate to something defined by the U.S. Copyright Act as a "sound recording". A copyright interest in sound recordings can be Registered, just like the underlying work.
The guy you asked to come to the studio to play bass and the engineer you asked to twist the knobs may have authorship interests in that sound recording of "your" song. It's not the end of the world, because they have no right to Register a copyright in the underlying work. And, if you've Registered your work, you can shut them down and make them pay dearly if they use your song without permission and/or without paying for a license. But why give them any piece of your copyright?
Retaining Control Over All Authorship Interests.
Even if you're just making a demo, I'de wager you really don't want the guy turning the knobs in the studio to have any authorship interest in that Sound Recording. Thankfully, there is an easy way to fix this issue so you retain exclusive rights in ALL FOUR four authorship interests: Music, Lyrics, Performance & Production.
Some websites advise you to ask the engineer, or musicians you called in, or the studio producer, to sign something called a "Work Made For Hire Agreement." This presumably takes whatever rights these studio people may have in your sound recording and returns them to you.
Be careful: Your "Work Made For Hire Agreement" may not work.
The Copyright Act defines "Work Made for Hire" rather narrowly. A "Work Made for Hire" takes the authorship away from the person who created the music, lyrics, performance and/or production and gives it to that person's EMPLOYER. For such a document to protect you, the writer, there has to be an employer - employee relationship between you and the studio personnel, or between you and the musicians called in to play on your recording, or betwen you and the engineer twisting knobs.
Even if you pay them, that DOES NOT make them your employees. They have to be more like salaried workers on the staff of a big company which you own. There is a method to create a "work made for hire" agreement to strip the engineer or session musician from having authorship interests in the sound recording, but that only applies for compliations, contributions to collective works and a few other narrow exceptions that WON"T apply to your demo.
Use An Assignment Form. We'll Give You One For Free
The best solution is an Assignment Agreement. "Assignment" means this: Regardless of what your relationship is, the engineer, musicians, and/or producer is expressly giving up any copyright interest they have. Period. If the engineer doesn't sign, you get another engineer. You're probably paying these people. Most of them sign.
You will feel a lot better when you Register your song knowing that the nature of your authorship in the music, lyrics, performance and recording belongs EXCLUSIVELY to you - or you and your writing partners.
Now, let's assume for a moment that you've already recorded some music and you didn't use an Assignment Form with the studio or musicians. You should Register your copyright in the music and/or lyrics. Also, if you performed on the studio recording, you can Register that part of your authorship too. And, if you had anything to do with the recording, (meaning you were in the studio and made ANY suggestions) you can Register your copyright interest in the production.
Registering is always important, even if there are some shared aspects of authorship. Should the studio try anything "funny", your Registration of the rights associated with the underlying music and lyrics will provide critical protection.
And, in the future you won't make the same mistake again.
We provide a free simple Assignment Agreement you can copy and use at any time.
Understanding the four aspects of authorship is critical to knowing how to copyright songs properly.
To Register your song(s), you can click the following link for a copyright service which will lead you effortlessly through the mechanics of the process......