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How to Copyright Your Music? (Explained)

As an artist, protecting your music is essential. With copyright laws in place, you can keep your work safe from being stolen or misused. But how do you copyright your music?

Unfortunately, not knowing how to copyright your music can lead to others distributing it without your permission.

Image of someone holding a pen with documents on a folder. Source: kampus production, pexels
Image of someone holding a pen with documents on a folder. Source: Kampus Production, Pexels

This article covers the steps needed to copyright your music and the legal protections it provides. So if you’re a songwriter or producer or just curious about how to secure your music, this post is for you!

How to copyright your music? To file a claim for copyright in a musical composition, you must send the Copyright Office (1) a filled-out application form, (2) the required “deposit copies,” and (3) the non-refundable filing fee. In this circular, we talk about some of the most common problems when registering musical works.

What is copyright, and why is it important?

Copyright is a part of intellectual property law that protects all kinds of creative works, including poems, books, movies, songs, CDs, websites, and even buildings. Copyright may protect how facts, ideas, systems, and ways of doing things are shared, but copyright does not protect these things.

The only person who can make copies, change, or create new works from their work and perform, show, or distribute that work is the person who owns the copyright. It guarantees that writers get all of the financial benefits from their works.

How to copyright your music?

What measures should you take to safeguard your musical progeny? There is a bit of a learning curve to navigate the archaic “AOL dial-up” period design and aesthetic, but I promise you, you can do it, as is the case with most government-run websites.
The following is a step-by-step guide to registering your music copyrights and putting your songwriting career on solid legal ground from here on out.

Step 1: Prepare your materials.

At first, you should gather all of your important musical assets and make sure they are in good, easy-to-read formats. Then, keep your music data, split sheets, MP3s, lyrics, and other relevant materials in one convenient location.

Step 2: Create your online account.

The next step is registering with copyright.gov, the official US copyright website. Get comfortable with the submission tool and fill out the relevant contact information. If you’re interested in knowing every detail, several resources are on your dashboard to assist you in learning the “language” used for submissions and the procedure involved.

Step 3: Fill out the online form for your first copyright submission.

Put aside some peace and quiet to complete these forms thoroughly. To register your copyrights, visit the Eco site and choose “Copyright Registration” from the sidebar on the left. From there, you’ll be led through a series of pages containing questions. Focus on “register a work” and choose “standard application” in most situations.

After that, you’ll be sent to a page that will assist you in double-checking that you’ve selected the right application to fill out, and then you’ll be asked a series of yes/no questions that will reveal whether or not your work is eligible for the regular application procedure.

After choosing your work’s category, input the titles, authors, claimants, rights, permissions, communication contact information, and postal address. It’s now time to verify and approve your application!

Step 4: Make your payment.

The following button will transfer you to a third-party site where you can complete the transaction. Both credit cards and e-checks are accepted for payments. Using the industry-standard recording app presently costs $55 per song to register. It may sound like a lot at first, but if you ever find yourself in court for copyright infringement, it won’t even cover an hour of legal counsel. It’s safer to be safe than sorry!

Step 5: Submit your supplemental materials.

The submission of your musical elements is required once payment has been verified. Acceptable file types are specified, so make sure you use them! Remember to wait until all your files have loaded before refreshing the page or proceeding to the next step if you’re uploading electronic copies of your work, or you may have to start again.

Step 6: Receive your digital and hard-copy confirmations.

After completing the online submission process, you will be promptly notified that your documents and money have been received. Then, wait for the physical copies to arrive in the mail sometime during the next six months. It would be best if you didn’t wait for copyright protection to kick in because your online submission was accepted; it goes into effect immediately.

What types of music can be copyrighted?

It is sometimes unclear what can and cannot be copyrighted in the music industry. Therefore, the following items are and are not valid for entry:

Copyright-protectable works:

  • Song lyrics
  • Completed works (e.g., songs, jingles, incidental music, symphonic pieces)

Exempt from copyright protection:

  • Song titles
  • Chord progressions
  • Incomplete or unfinished works

Under the right conditions, you may even trademark your stage name. But that’s another tale altogether.

Image of someone signing legal documents. Source: pixabay
Image of someone signing legal documents. Source: Pixabay

Registering your music with the US Copyright Office

Legal copy protection is automated. This implies that filing paperwork to get protection for your work is unnecessary. On the other hand, registering your work with the US Copyright Office allows you to pursue statutory damages and lawyers’ costs in case of a legal dispute.

Owners of copyrights place a premium on the ability to sue for statutory damages. Instead of real damages and profits, they let winners get “automatic damages,” which can range from $200 to $150,000 per infringing work, depending on the nature and severity of the infringement, the infringer’s knowledge, and other factors.

Statutory damages are preferable to actual damages since they do not need as much time and money to establish and calculate.

The registration form is lengthy and simple, and the Office provides clear online instructions, so creators may choose to complete it independently. Once an author has gone through the registration procedure once or twice, registering additional works is a breeze. Here you may find a tutorial that the Office has made available. Simple registration details are also provided.

If you want to register your copyrighted work with the US Copyright Office on your own, you’ll need to bring in these three things:

  • A completed application form;
  • A nonrefundable filing fee; and
  • at least one copy of the work(s) being registered

Even though paper forms are still accepted, registering on the Office’s website has several advantages:

https://www.copyright.gov/registration/. For instance:

  • Fee reduction (from $85 to $35 for a single author who is also the lone claimant in a single work that is not created for hire when filing electronically, and from $55 to $35 for all other online filers when filing traditionally);
  • swifter processing;
  • Follow your order’s progress online;
  • safe and sound transaction through credit card, debit card, electronic cheque, or deposit to the Copyright Office account;
  • electronically filing some types of payments straight into eCO

If you want to mail in a physical deposit, you may still register online and print out a shipping slip to include with your submission.

Complete your application and send it to the Copyright Office, and you’re finished. Suppose the examiner at the Office has any questions about your application. In that case, you should inform the Office about any changes to your copyright registrations, like a change of name or location.

Remember that it may be a while before the Office reviews your submission and provides feedback. It’s possible to do everything in as little as three months. However, a timeline of 6–8 months is more reasonable. Also, it may take up to 10 months before you hear back about whether or not your registration was accepted.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “How To Copyright Your Music” from the Charles Cleyn YouTube channel.

A video called “How To Copyright Your Music” from the Charles Cleyn YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about copyrighting music.

Can I copyright my music for free?

Thankfully, this is simple to do. When you put your music on a physical medium, like paper or an audio recording, you get copyright protection immediately. True enough. The moment you write down or record a song you wrote yourself, you own the rights to it.

Should I copyright my music?

Even though it’s not required, registering your copyrights will give you more legal protection if you must sue someone who used your music without your permission.

How much is the copyright fee for a song?

Copyrighting music might take up to six months. As of this date, there is a nonrefundable $35 filing charge for electronic submissions and an $85 cost for paper submissions. Keep an eye on the US Copyright website, as fees are subject to change. In addition, you must provide a copy or copies of your work that will not be returned.

How long does music copyright last?

Copyright protection usually lasts as long as the author lives, plus 70 years for works created on or after January 1, 1978.

How can I protect my music without copyright?

The best way to avoid copyright violations and strikes on YouTube is to only upload videos you have made yourself. In addition, you won’t have to worry about copyright violations if you only use the audio and video you created yourself.

Conclusion

Music copyright is important in protecting your hard work and ensuring that you are properly compensated for it. By understanding the process and taking the necessary steps to copyright your music, you can ensure that your creative work is safeguarded from unauthorized use.

However, just as you can’t become an expert cyclist by reading a book, you can’t become a great music producer by reading articles alone. It’s time to take action! Go and put what you have learned into practice.

This article covered what copyright is, why it is important, how to copyright your music and the type of music that can be copyrighted. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • Copyright is a part of intellectual property law that protects all kinds of creative works, including poems, books, movies, songs, CDs, websites, and even buildings.
  • There is a bit of a learning curve to navigate the archaic “AOL dial-up” period design and aesthetic.
  • It is sometimes unclear what can and cannot be copyrighted in the music industry.
  • Extra tips:
    • It is your property if you make a sound recording or pay for studio time and session costs to record anything.
    • When a piece of music is played, the copyright owner is entitled to royalties—permission to perform or perform publicly with the song.
    • All you have to do to get free timestamps for your music is post-digital sound recordings or sheet music to a website like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or Soundcloud.

So, do you copyright your music? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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