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How To Copyright A Song (The 6 Steps To Protecting Your Music)

February 9, 2023 
Last Updated on May 24, 2023

Copyrighting a song is an essential step for any songwriter, musician, or recording artist who wants to safeguard their work. Through this article, I'll guide you through the process of how to copyright a song; what it entails, what it doesn't, and how best to protect your rights. Let's get started!

A stamp, gavel, pen, glasses, and white paper with the word "copyright law" written on it.

A copyright is a type of legal protection for creative works such as songs, books and artwork. It grants the creators of these pieces the exclusive right to use, distribute and profit from their creation for an agreed-upon period. That means others cannot reproduce or sell your work without your authorization.

There are two primary forms of music copyright: mechanical and performance.

  1. Mechanical Copyright: This type of copyright grants the rights to reproduce a song in either physical form (CD or vinyl record) or digitally (downloads or streaming), as well as creating cover versions. These rights are usually administered by performance rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

  2. Performance Copyright: This type of copyright grants the right to perform a song publicly, including radio and TV performances as well as performances in bars, restaurants and other venues. Additionally, performance copyrights grant access to play songs through jukeboxes or other music services in public places. Performance copyrights are administered by PROs just like mechanical ones.

It's essential for musicians and songwriters to comprehend both types of music copyright, as well as how they can protect their rights. This includes registering their work with appropriate performance rights organizations and guaranteeing they receive adequate compensation for using it.

Related Article: BMI Vs ASCAP | Who's The Best Performing Rights Organization?

GIF of the universal copyright symbal.

This topic is often debatable, but the short answer is yes - copyright your music! Copyrighting your work is essential for several reasons and will protect you in the long run. Let's take a closer look at three reasons why copyrighting sound recordings is necessary.

  1. Legal Protection: You have the right to take legal action if someone uses or sells your work without your permission. This safeguard gives you control over how your work is utilized and guarantees that you will receive fair compensation for it.

  2. Establish Your Ownership: Establishing ownership is essential if you want to license or sell your songs to others. This could include licensing the song for use in movies, TV shows, commercials or other media. When someone buys the rights to use your song they are purchasing the copyright from you.

  3. Ironclad Evidence: A copyright provides 100% proof that you created and own a work. This can be invaluable when settling disputes or proving ownership in court.

What Parts Of A Song Can Be Copyrighted?

A song is composed of several elements, some of which may be copyrighted. Under copyright law, certain parts of a song can be protected:

  1. Lyrics: The words and text that compose a song can be safeguarded by copyright. This includes the language, rhythm, and rhyme scheme of the lyrics.

  2. Melody: The musical composition or tune of a song can also be protected by copyright. This includes the rhythm, harmony and melody components.

  3. Arrangement: The way a song is composed can be copyrighted. This includes the instrumentation, tempo and structure of the piece.

  4. Sound Recording: The actual audio recording of a song, including vocal and instrumental performances, can be protected by copyright. This also extends to any sound engineering or production elements involved in making the recording.

It’s important to note that in order for a song to be protected by copyright, it must be original and unique. This means that the song cannot be copied or derived from another work.

White cards with the word how and some with question marks representing how to copyright a song.

Now that you understand the significance of copyrighting your song, let's take a closer look at the steps necessary to safeguard these rights.

Step 1: Create Your Song

The first step in the process of copyright protection is to create the song itself. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember that you cannot copyright an idea or a concept. You must create a tangible, recorded version of your song before you can copyright it.

Once your song is written, it must be registered for copyright through the U.S. Copyright Office online. Simply fill out an application and pay a fee that varies based on what type of work is being registered. You can also pay a third-party company to register your works for you.

It's essential to note that although registration of a copyright isn't mandatory by law, it provides you with all of the advantages outlined earlier in this article.

Who is Cosynd?

Cosynd company logo.

Cosynd is a legal tech platform that offers copyright management services for independent artists, content creators and small business owners. By taking care of the complex yet time-consuming task of copyright registration, Cosynd helps users safeguard their creative works while automating and streamlining the registration and tracking processes.

Cosynd also provides educational resources and support to creators, helping them understand their rights. With Cosynd, creators can focus on creating and promoting their content while the platform takes care of legal and administrative tasks.

Step 3: Record Your Song

Once you have obtained a copyright for your song, recording it is necessary. This can be done through various methods such as burning it onto CD, creating an MP3/wav digital file, writing down lyrics by hand or even creating sheet music.

Your sound recording of your song should be an original work that is unique to you and not copied from any source. Copyrights only protect original creations, not copies of existing works. NOTE: If you use samples in your music, you will need to get them cleared through a copyright.

Step 4: Securely Store Your Recording

Once you've recorded your song, it is essential to store it securely. This could involve backing it up to a cloud-based storage service or keeping an physical copy for reference.

Step 5: Share Your Song

A hand holding a phone showing the icons for Apple Music and Spotify.

After recording and storing your song, you can now share it with others by performing it live, uploading it onto a website, or distributing it onto music streaming services.

It is essential to be aware that sharing your song also means others may have access to it. Be sure to understand the terms and conditions for any platform where you upload your work; some platforms may have specific rules regarding copyright ownership, so be sure to read and comprehend these conditions prior to uploading any music files.

Finally, it's essential to protect your copyright and ensure that none of your rights are infringed upon. This could involve monitoring the use of your song and taking action if someone uses it without your permission. Likewise, keep up-to-date with copyright registration; lengths of protection vary based on work type and when it was created.

The "poor man's copyright" is an often misunderstood method of establishing ownership of a work. This involves mailing yourself a copy of the song and keeping the envelope sealed - with the idea being that this acts as evidence in court that shows when it was created.

Unfortunately, "poor man's copyright" is not recognized as a valid form of copyright protection by either the U.S. Copyright Office or any other legal entity. In order for recorded music to be safeguarded by copyright, it must first be registered with either this office in America or an equivalent organization elsewhere in the world.

Yes, it is legal to copyright a cover song. A cover song is simply a new recording of an existing musical composition. The copyright in the new recording is separate from that of the original. This means you can obtain ownership of your recording even if you do not possess rights to the original composition itself.

However, in order to legally release a cover song, you will need both a mechanical license for the original composition and synchronization license for any accompanying visual content (such as a music video). These licenses can be acquired through organizations like Harry Fox Agency or by directly contacting the copyright owner of the original composition.

It's essential to be aware that while recording a cover song may grant you copyright, there may still be limitations on how the recording can be used and monetized. This is because the rights to the original composition will remain with its copyright owner.

Related Article: Music Sync Licensing: How To Make Money From Your Music

How Can I Earn Money From My Sound Recordings?

A guitar case filled with coins representing how to make money with music.

Earning money as a copyright owner from sound recordings can be accomplished in several ways.

  1. Licensing: You can license your sound recordings to TV shows, films, commercials, video games and more for use in media productions.

    Royalty Collections: You can register your sound recordings with a performance rights organization (such as ASCAP, BMI or SESAC) to collect royalties for public performances. Furthermore, don't forget about SoundExchange who collect money in the digital realm.

  2. Selling Physical Copies: You can sell physical copies of your sound recordings, such as CDs or vinyl records.

  3. Streaming Platforms: You can distribute your sound recordings onto digital platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music and earn revenue from streaming royalties - these are mechanical royalties.

  4. Live Performances: You can perform your sound recordings live and earn money from ticket sales, merchandise sales, or even PROs.

It's important to note that for all of these options, you need to ensure that you have the exclusive rights and permissions to use and monetize the sound recordings.

Related Article: How Much Does Spotify Pay Per Stream? Is The Payout Fair?

Final Thoughts

Copyrighting a song is an essential step for songwriters, musicians and recording artists who wish to protect their creative work. It ensures they receive appropriate credit and compensation for their efforts. By following these steps, you can secure your rights and prevent others from using your work without your authorization.

If you found the information in this article helpful, please considering subscribing to my blog for more music industry knowledge, advice, and guidance. Now, go copyright your music!

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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