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Your lyrics poured out like oil on the page, and you can't wait to share them with the world. Not so fast, though. Copyrighting your music is necessary to protect it from unlawful use.
The number of U.S. copyright cases filed during the past two decades has increased significantly. California was the top state for infringement lawsuits in 2019 with over 16,000 suits.
A copyright gives you the exclusive right to distribute, use, and control your work. You may sue someone attempting to do this without your permission.
Are you wondering, "How do I copyright my music?" Let's explore how to copyright songs.
Using Copyright in Music
Suppose you're attempting to protect a symphony or song. An essential step in protecting your musical work is recording the work in audio or paper format.
Copyright protection is instantly available for your work once it's written down or recorded. You'll still want to formally reinforce your symphony or song ownership by establishing your copyright. Copyright will enhance your music's protection.
What happens if you don't register a copyright for your musical work? Asserting your rights may be difficult in an infringement claim. An infringement claim is a lawsuit against someone for violating your exclusive music rights.
You'll also receive several exclusive music rights when you choose to copyright. These rights allow you to use your music in several ways. You'll have the right to:
- Distribute your work in digital and physical formats
- Create a derivative work based on the music
- Perform the music
An example of a derivative work is a remix of a song. Many artists create remixes to reach potential fans who may not have loved their original songs. It can expose them to bigger audiences.
Someone who wants to perform, sample, or distribute your musical work must receive your permission when it's copyrighted. Not copyrighting your work may block possible income streams from individuals wanting to use or perform your work.
What Can I Copyright?
Let's say you create and record a new song. You might be developing two copyright-protected works: a unique sound recording and a musical work.
Musical works refer to songs' underlying compositions and accompanying lyrics. Composers and songwriters create these works.
Sound recordings are a series of sounds (e.g., musical or spoken) fixed in recording media, like digital files and CDs. A song's producer or performer can produce sound recordings.
Copyright protection extends to song lyrics, even if you haven't set your lyrics to music yet. You may also copyright a complete work, including a symphonic piece, incidental music, jingle, or song. Your copyright protection covers your piece's original, unique combination of rhythm, harmony, and melody.
What Can't I Copyright?
You're not allowed to copyright a song title. That's why many songs feature similar titles or the same ones. An example of this is the song title "Coming Up." The Cure created their version of "Coming Up" in 2000, and Paul McCartney developed his version in 1980.
Another musical component you can't copyright is a chord progression. Musicians copyrighting chord progressions would be similar to novelists copyrighting the alphabet.
You also may not copyright an incomplete musical piece. Fragments of pieces cannot be copyrighted.
How Do I Copyright My Music?
Copyrighting your music is relatively easy. The US's copyright office will require you to complete an application and pay a filing fee. You'll then have to submit your music (a copy) to them.
The office will notify you of your application's status once you've applied for registration. Successfully registering your creative musical work will lead to much greater protection over your musical work and exclusive musical rights.
A copyright also gives you access to the US's federal court system if your work is infringed upon. It creates a public music ownership record for you, too.
Copyright Protection Application Options
Several application options are available for musicians, including a standard application and group registration options. Use the standard application to register an individual musical work or sound recording. Group registration can be used to register multiple works.
There are two types of group registration: one for unpublished works and one for music album works. The unpublished work option can be used to register ten unpublished musical works by one author, and the other option may be used to register 20 sound recordings or musical works by one author. It's okay if some of these 20 works are by multiple authors as long as they all feature at least a single common author.
Do you plan to register a sound recording? You may register associated graphic, pictorial, or literary works, too. These include posters, cover art, and liner notes.
📝 Trademark Application
Let's say you've produced your musical works as part of a band. You may also want to submit a band trademark application with the US's trademark and patent office for your business.
Trademarking your band's name can help you legally protect your brand. You'll receive protection for your band's symbols, lyrics, song titles, logo, and name.
Trademarks' goal is to prevent unfair competition, like causing confusion due to having a slogan, logo, or name similar to someone else's. Applying for a band trademark will reassure you that other bands or musicians can't legally use these items to confuse consumers. This will deter other bands from duplicating your name, which may lead to a reputation-damaging and costly legal battle.
Remember that copyright and trademark are different types of protection for intellectual property. A trademark protects a brand's identity, while a copyright protects an original work.
In-Depth Copyright Process
Completing the copyright application process can feel intimidating if you haven't navigated it before. Let's examine this process in detail.
🛠️ Preparing For the Process
Compile all your musical materials, ensuring they're in clear and clean formats. These materials may include your lyrics, MP3, song information, and split sheet.
Split sheets are written agreements identifying all contributors to songs. They establish these contributors' ownership percentages.
✍️ Completing the Form
Visit copyright.gov to fill out your basic copyright application information once all the above-mentioned documents are readily available. Multiple questions must be answered to submit the copyright application online, so set aside 30 minutes to complete the process. Choose a quiet spot so you can concentrate on each step.
The first step in completing your application is to create an account and confirm you've selected the right application. You'll then be asked several "yes" and "no" questions regarding whether your musical work is eligible for the government's standard online application process. Your next step is to pick your work type and enter several details about it, including:
- Mailing address
- Permissions and rights
- Author information
- Work's publication status
- Work's title
Another essential detail to enter is your correspondence contact information. Your final step is to review and certify your application.
💸 Making Your Payment
The next step in completing your copyright protection application is to pay the filing fee. Both ACH (bank account) and credit card payment options are available.
It will cost you $55 to register a song. The cost is worthwhile since this amount won't even cover one hour of a lawyer's time if you have to sue someone for infringing upon your copyright.
👩💻 Submitting Supplemental Materials
Let's say your copyright protection payment is confirmed. You'll need to submit your musical materials electronically. Follow the government's directions for submitting your works, ensuring they're in one of the file formats given. Click on the next step on your computer screen when all of your musical works have been loaded successfully.
💽 Get Your Hard-Copy and Digital Copyright Confirmations
You'll receive confirmation of your files' receipt once you've submitted everything online. Expect your hard-copy confirmation to arrive by snail mail in six months. Your digital confirmation will arrive in your email immediately.
Using Somebody Else's Work
An essential part of understanding copyright protection is knowing what happens if you use someone else's musical works to create your music. This is especially important given that it's natural to receive inspiration from other works when creating yours.
Musicians frequently use other musical works to produce new recordings, compositions, and public performances. This doesn't mean it's safe to utilize other works freely. You must abide by several rules to use another artist's musical work or sound recording.
Avoid using work that's not in the public domain already. This means the US's copyright law doesn't protect it.
A work may fall under this category if its copyright has expired. Pre-1926 works and those the federal government creates are also generally free for anyone to use without the original owner's or creator's permission. Other works fall under this category because their creators have waived their exclusive music rights.
📢 Dealing With Songs Not in the Public Domain
What if a song you want to use isn't a public-domain work? Ask the song's copyright holder for permission to use it. There's no specific rule for the minimum number of lyrics or other musical components you may use without seeking permission.
Suppose you want to record an exciting cover song. Cover songs are new performances or recordings of previously recorded songs by individuals who aren't the original composers or artists. Compare your intended use with the original song owner's rights to ensure you align with them.
Perhaps you can't reach the owner of a song you wish to use. Contact the copyright owner's representative responsible for licensing their work and its uses. That representative may be a performing rights organization (PRO) or music publisher.
PROs collect royalties for publishers and songwriters for musical work, recordings, and public performances. These parties are intermediaries between individuals who want to use protected works in public locations (e.g., dining and shopping venues) and copyright holders. They receive royalties from the venues and give them to their copyright holders.
What If My Work Is Used Illegally?
You might wonder what to do if someone uses your musical work unlawfully. Pursuing legal action against this person is possible when you have copyright protection, as mentioned earlier. It involves bringing a lawsuit against them in the US federal court.
Copyright protection may even make it possible for you to get your lawyer fees covered. A judge may require the infringer to cover your attorney fees if you win your lawsuit.
You could also seek statutory damages, financial damages awarded to cover losses or injuries resulting from someone's illegal use of a musical work. An example of statutory damages is lost profits stemming from infringement.
An alternative to taking your case to federal court is to involve the US's Copyright Claims Board or CCB. This voluntary copyright office forum can help resolve a copyright dispute involving under $30,000 in damages.
The CCB route is a streamlined and cost-effective alternative to going to court. It's available only to musical work owners who've copyrighted their works.
Music Modernization Rule
Musical content creators should also understand the new Music Modernization Act's (MMA's) requirements. This act went into effect in January 2021.
The MMA updated how people with copyrighted musical works receive royalties and when their works are played through streaming services online. Registering your information online with the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) is necessary to receive payments from companies that provide digital music and use the Music Act's license.
Your administrator or publisher can register with the MLC for you. Remember that this registration doesn't replace copyright registration.
Copyright registration is necessary to ensure you receive royalties for the non-digital use of your creative work. That includes receiving payments for CDs or vinyl records.
How We Can Help You Produce Quality Music
You might wonder, "How do I copyright my music?" Copyrighting your music is a relatively simple process involving completing an online application and paying a filing fee. You'll also need to submit the work you want to copyright.
Copyright protection safeguards your work against illegal use of it per today's music copyright laws. If somebody uses your copyrighted music without your permission, you can sue them in the US federal court system.
We're excited to help you create high-quality musical works you'll be proud to copyright at Craft Your Sound. Subscribe today to access our whole community.