Copywriting your music is pretty simple, but things can get complicated if you have to enforce your rights
You may have heard that the only step you need to take to copyright your music is to simply record it. And that’s true as far as it goes. Here’s how the U.S. Copyright Office puts it in a very useful set of FAQs you’ll find here:
When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”
Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.
So, putting it simply, recording your music is in effect a way of copyrighting your songs. But to be protected against ripoffs,your music needs to be registered with the Copyright Office. The process is relatively simple and costs $35 online. You can get all the details here.
Keep in mind though that obtaining a copyright is just one step in protecting your rights over your music. In order to control and protect other aspects including distribution via CD, downloads, streaming media, sheet music, etc. will require registering the music with performance rights organizations such as BMI or ASCAP. These steps are more complex than obtaining a copyright, and given the many ways in which music is distributed and broadcast these days, beyond the scope of this article.
Hey That’s My Music is an essential guide for musicians that will guide you through the complex process of protecting and licensing your music.
At Musicians Friend you’ll find a large selection of books dealing with music industry topics including music rights and licensing.