Copyrighting a Song: Protecting Your Melodic Masterpieces

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Last updatedLast updated: December 09, 2023
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Have you ever contemplated the ownership of your music? Or, more pertinently, could you defend it? If not, we’ve got your back. This comprehensive guide will walk you through copyrighting a song in five simple steps.

Staying independent in the music industry means more than just artistic freedom. It means retaining ownership of your creative masterpieces. That’s where music copyright steps into the limelight. By copyrighting your music, you, as the creator, are given the ultimate authority over its distribution and use. Furthermore, you could potentially benefit from copyright royalties whenever your music is played or used elsewhere. To all the independent artists out there, this step-by-step guide is all you need to safeguard your music effectively.

Do You Need to Copyright Your Music?

Though it may seem like a complex maze, music copyright is less complicated than it appears. While the specifics may change from one country to another, the fundamental principle remains unaltered. Copyrighting your song is essential to guard your music against plagiarism and unauthorized usage.

Take a peek at some of the industry’s most publicized copyright dispute cases to affirm this point. From Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams vs. Marvin Gaye to Vanilla Ice vs. Queen and more recent tussles involving big names like Lana Del Rey and Coldplay. The takeaway? Regardless of your career stage, copyrighting your music bestows upon you exclusive rights to:

  • Distribute your music in all formats, both physical and digital
  • Develop derivative works or samples based on your music
  • Perform your music live

These rights ensure that your music is your music alone.

How Music Copyright Works in Different Regions

In the UK

Legally, copyright exists in the UK the instant you create a tangible form of your music. This can be as simple as lyrics jotted on a scrap of paper or a sound recording on your old-fashioned phone.

In the USA

In contrast, the USA necessitates a more formal copyrighting process. This involves registering your songs with the US Copyright Office (USCO). This yields several benefits for US artists, such as enhanced leverage, protection, and power when monetizing your music catalog.

Owing to a 2019 law enacted by the US Supreme Court, all music must now be registered with the USCO before you can initiate any copyright dispute or infringement lawsuit. Early registration is advised. Registering before any misuse of your music could make you eligible for a hefty payout, anything up to $150,000 per infringement, plus legal fees.

What Aspects of Music Can Be Copyrighted?

Determining what is eligible can be tricky when it comes to copyrighting music. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Eligible for copyright: Song lyrics, completed works (songs, jingles, incidental music, symphonic pieces)
  • Not eligible for copyright: Song titles, chord progressions, incomplete or unfinished works

Interestingly, it’s also possible to trademark your artist’s name under certain circumstances. But that’s a separate topic altogether.

5 Steps to Copyright Your Music Today

1. Make a Physical Copy of Your Music

Begin by writing down your song lyrics or recording your music. This can be as straightforward as making a note of the melody on some manuscript paper or recording the song on a digital device. Whatever method you choose, it should be possible to reproduce the song from the material you’ve created. This act of ‘fixing’ your music into a tangible form kickstarts the process of claiming your music copyright.

2. Create Timely Evidence for Your Case

Music copyright is time-sensitive. You’ll need to be able to prove when the tangible copy of your music was made. This is particularly important if there’s a dispute over your work’s ‘originality’ or ‘authorship’. One way of obtaining this proof is to upload a digital recording of your music or sheet music to an online platform like YouTube, SoundCloud, or Facebook or email it to yourself. The date and time of the upload or email timestamp serve as proof of when the work was created.

3. File the Correct Forms with USCO (For USA)

Every piece of recorded music has two aspects to copyright:

  • The publishing copyright (the written composition)
  • The master copyright (the sound recording)

These two components are treated separately in the industry, and when registering your song with the USCO, there are two forms that you need to be aware of: Form PA and Form SR. Use Form PA to claim the copyright for the composition or the underlying musical work and Form SR to claim the copyright for a sound recording or recorded performance.

If you’re the sole owner of the composition and sound recording, you must fill out just one form – the SR. You can use the authorship statement in Space 2 to specify that the claim covers both works.

4. Define the Splits

Deciding how money is divided up between the publishing and masters depends on how the song is being used. The industry standard split for physical sales such as CDs or vinyl is around 91% to the master and 9% to the publishing. Music sync is usually a 50/50 split between publishing and masters.

Remember, you’ll own all the copyright if you’re a solo artist. But, if there are multiple songwriters or co-writers, then you’ll need to define this in the paperwork to ensure fair distribution of the copyright.

5. Earn Money from Copyright Royalties

Copyrighting your music also opens up another revenue stream – via copyright royalties – every time someone wants to perform or use your work. Be sure you’re signed up with the right music collection society to collect all the copyright royalties you owe.

These five steps will protect your music, allowing you to focus on what you do best – creating more wonderful music for the world to enjoy.

Final Thoughts

As we reach the end of this guide, it’s crucial to reiterate the importance of copyrighting your music. It protects your creative output from unauthorized usage and plagiarism and establishes your rights to distribute, perform, and create derivative works based on your music. Music copyright also enables you to earn from your creations, providing you with a viable revenue stream through copyright royalties. To stay ahead in the music industry, safeguarding your work through copyright is essential, whether you’re an established musician or an emerging artist.

It’s equally important to understand that while this guide offers a comprehensive overview of copyrighting your song, the process may vary slightly based on the region and specific legal regulations. Remember that knowledge is power; the more you understand about music copyright, the better you can protect your interests. From creating a tangible form of your song to registering your music with the relevant copyright office and understanding the royalty splits, every step is integral to securing your music’s future. Follow this guide, protect your music, and let your creativity flourish without apprehension.

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