Many songwriters do not understand about Copyright. But it is the THE most important thing to know, and the least amount of hassle to learn it.
When you write a song, it is your intellectual property. It is yours. But how do you protect others from stealing your ideas or how do you prove that you wrote it in a court of law? Songsalive! is going to demystify 5 song copyright assumptions for you and respond with simple truths.
ASSUMPTION 1. You have to pay the Library of Congress to Copyright songs
There is a big confusion about when your song is copyrighted. Most songwriters think, and have been told, that you have to register your song with the Library or Congress to actually copyright the song (register ownership). But this is incorrect.
Truth: Copyrighting your song happens as soon as you write it down. "Copyright law protects all aspects of an artistic work, as long as the work is original and has been reduced to a tangible medium. Song lyrics, for example, are protected as soon as they are recorded, whether in audio or written form. " - Legalzoom
"For a new song or other work, copyright begins at the moment of fixation — when the music and lyrics have been set down on paper, recorded, or stored on a computer. Copyright protects the musician even if the song is never registered with the Copyright Office." - John M Garon, Entertainment Lawyer
ASSUMPTION 2 - You have to do a lot of paperwork to copyright your songs and there is only one way to copyright the song, which is the Copyright office.
Truth: There is very little paperwork to do, and, again, copyright is not by the Copyright office. In fact you can use the paper you wrote your song lyrics on, and you should. You simply write the Copyright symbol and date, and your name, on your written lyrics, and this affirms you own the song.
E.G, LYRICS © 2018 Gilli Moon
ASSUMPTION 3 - You need to register your song with the U.S Copyright Office/Library of Congress to Copyright it and as soon as possible.
Truth: Copyright protection is law, as soon as you write the song, as above. However you can register your song lyrics to make it easier to prove that you wrote the lyrics before the infringer did. If you are ever in a situation where an infringer pretends to have written your song, and you have to prove it's yours, you need as much backup/evidence as possible.
"Although you don’t need to register your song lyrics with the U.S. Copyright Office to enjoy copyright protection, registration makes it easier to prove that you wrote the lyrics before the infringer did and allows you to collect damages without proving economic harm." - Legalzoom
"There is little or no value to registering a composition until it has been published. This typically means selling or distributing copies of the song to the public. Posting a new recording or video to YouTube will constitute publication. Live performance of a song does not publish the song." - John M Garon, Entertainment Lawyer
ASSUMPTION 4: It's very expensive to register a song and very complicated.
TRUTH: Actually it's easy and quick to register a song with the Copyright office.
"Registration is simple. Until recently, a musician would file a Form-PA with the Copyright Office. While this is still possible, the Copyright Office has removed the Form-PA from its website (www.copyright.gov) to encourage users to file electronically. Registration should be done on Form-CO. This form is used for both the composition and the sound recording. The cost of filing is $35.00 for electronic filing or $45.00 for paper filing. Paper filing also takes the Copyright Office significantly longer to complete. In addition to the registration, two copies of the published composition must also be deposited with the Copyright Office." - John M Garon, Entertainment Lawyer
ASSUMPTION 5: There is only one way to prove your song is yours, and that is through the Copyright Office
TRUTH: Once you've written your song, it's copyrighted. However, as mentioned above, you can 1) register your song lyrics with the Copyright Office to make it easier to PROVE that you wrote the lyrics before the infringer did. 2) Publication of the song also proves first use of your song, eg if you publish the song to YouTube, or press it on a CD, Vinyl. 3) You can also send the song in an envelope to yourself via the Postal Service, but don't open the letter (keep it closed) so that it shows the stamp and Postal service date stamp on it. This is called Poor Man's Copyright. This is not a very strong proof however. The strongest proof is registering through the Copyright Office.
ASSUMPTION 6: Copyright lasts forever
TRUTH: Unfortunately not. It will last till you die, and several decades beyond, but then it becomes public domain. Read this article on Copyright.gov
NEXT STEPS FOR YOU:
Step 1: Write a great song
Step 2: Copyright it by adding the appropriate details on your lyric sheet as above.
Step 3: Register your Song at Copyright.gov for maybe one-day proof here
1. Read about Copyright Law in the US here
My fave from GCG Law here
2. Legalzoom great article here
3. Here is the Wikipedia definition of copyright:
4. Here's some online articles about song copyrights here
5. and here
6. and finally here
I hope you enjoyed the read.
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