Music Copyright: General Concepts
Learn basic copyright rules, protect your songs and sound recordings and you will likely have a successful music career.
Musicians need not become lawyers and you don't have to worry about technical legal mumbo jumbo. Just a little accurate music copyright information is all you need.
You May Already Have A Copyright: Is That Enough?
Myths and misconceptions about music copyright are spread across the internet. Proper music copyright protection let's you collect special damages if your work is stolen, and puts you at an advantage when you market yourself as an emerging performing artist and/or songwriter.
Technically, the Copyright exists from the moment you create the music and/or lyrics and preserve them in some form (fixation). Nearly ANY rudimentary recording or written notation will do. You can hum into a tape recorder, scribble the lyrics on a napkin, and if it's original, bingo...you've got a copyright.
For a limited period of time you essentially have a monopoly on First Use use of the song. The law "relaxes" the monopoly after so called First Use. But, if you act on the music copyright informtion provided here, your right to royalties is preserved when other artists record your music.
Registration Provides Full Music Copyright Protection
When someone asks: "How Do I Copyright A Song?" - they are asking how to REGISTER the Copyright.
Registration of the Copyright with the United States Copyright Office provides essential legal tools to make your rights enforceable. Do it right, you get the money you've got coming, and sometimes more.
Yes. Songwriters and musicians who Register their work in a timely manner may receive MORE THAN THEIR ACTUAL LOSSES if someone infringes on their copyright.
Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office gives you the keys to the Courthouse, realistic access to lawyers, and two very special legal hammers. The first hammer nearly guarantees you always win any copyright dispute involving your song(s). The second gives you a much better chance of actually collecting significant sums of money.
Also, there are also practical considerations which have nothing to do with Courtrooms and legal actions. There is a relationship between your legal position and ability to effectively market your talent. Failing to apply basic music copyright information available here can cause your career to implode at the very moment all your hard work should be paying off.
The Power of Presumption
Copyright rules are contained in Title 17 of U.S Code. The statute is set up to benefit those who protect their interests in a timely manner. It matters WHEN you take action to register your copyrights. Lawyers like to use the phrase: "Time is of the Essence". Your protection weakens if you don't get the paperwork in. The mechanics of "getting a copyright" is easy, so failing to do so is quite inexcusable.
|Within Title 17 is Section 411, a little statute which informs us that Registration is required BEFORE you can bring legal action to stop someone from stealing your work, or using it without paying you royalties.|
Think about that for a moment.
The law grants copyrights when a song is created, but until you Register there is no effective way to enforce those rights. You can't sue.
As many websites remind you: Registration is NOT necessary to have a copyright in your musical works. True...but they make no mention of Section 411.
Once you do Register your songs, the law gives you keys to the Courthouse. Your RIGHT OF ACTION is now recognized. And, registration gives you a presumption that you win.
|With this presumption the burden of proof to show who wrote the song shifts from you to the person who stole your work or didn't pay royalties due. To attorneys, (and now you) presumptions are rare and beautiful things. Lawyers love them because they are usually what we call "outcome determinative": The person who walks into Court as the presumptive writer of the song almost always wins.|
You really do NOT need a lawyer until someone messes with your work or fails to pay royalties. But, if you're holding a presumption of victory, you may find it much easier to hire a lawyer on workable terms to enforce your rights. Lawyers like to take easy cases with potential large awards due their clients!!
The Watchful Eye
Success in the music industry, especially as a songwriter or performer, is all about being ready to act upon opportunities. You keep a watchful eye for opportunity, but you can't predict exactly when your breaks will come. You can take steps IN ADVANCE to insure that things go well when opportunity does knock. It's all about putting yourself in a state of Professional Readiness.
Record labels still sign artists to lucrative deals. Producers still drop seed money on emerging bands. Managers still push promising acts. Publishers still promote young songwriters.
And they all drop artists if the musical assets are tied in some endless copyright dispute.
Record contracts, as well as producer deals and publisher deals, are investments. The less risk, the more attrative the investment.
|Ask yourself: Is a record label more likely to make that investment if your work is covered by a legal presumption that you win any dispute over the music?|
Some sites recommend that you Register your copyright only when a dispute erupts. It's bad advice from both a legal and practical perspective.
If you have great songs and a label or producer or manager or distributor wants to get involved, you might find them running away if some idiot you worked with years ago suddenly comes out of the woodwork and says they have an interest in your songs.
While you're in negotiations with someone willing to invest in your career is NOT the time to start scambling to Register your work if something unexpected pops up.
Don't jeopardize your ability to take advantage of opportunities. Get music copyright protection. Secure your art to secure your deals.
Statutory Damages: The Teeth of Registration
When a songwriter or musician asks: "How do I Copyright My Song?" they set in motion a process which places them at an advantage - IF THEY TAKE ACTION. Music ain't about the money, but when you see some of the eyepopping sums associated with copyright cases, you may determine Registration is a very smart thing to do.
If you Register your Copyright and someone improperly uses your work, you can elect to receive either Actual Damages or Statutory Damages.
If you're already a really big artist, maybe take the actual damages.
If your work is not yet at the top of the charts, take a look at the Statutory Damages option.
The party whose songs were used without authorization may recover up to $30,000.00 for EACH copyright infringement. The Court can award less, down to $750.00 for each infringement. But, the Court can also award more: When the infringer is wilful, and persists in using your work after they know you don't want them to, the Court can whack the defendant for $150,000.00, and that's for EACH infringement. (Enter Stage Left: The Cease & Desist Letter).
If you don't Register your copyright you don't get Statutory Damages. Ouch.
This is all about setting yourself up for success and setting yourself up to win: If someone steals your REGISTERED work or uses it improperly without paying royalties, you don't have to prove how much they made, or how much you lost, to obtain damage awards.
If you want to register immediately, use the following link for quick and easy copyright services....