Why is Copyrighting your songs important?
Under international law (Berne Convention), copyright is the automatic right of the creator of the work. This means that your copyright exists the minute you have a tangible version of the music (sheet music, tape, CD, etc.).
So, you’re safe, right?
Not really. The problem is this. Although copyright is technically granted when the work is created, you need to prove ownership to seek damages, or protect yourself in a copyright infringement situation.
In the United States, in 1870, Congress passed a law moving registration of copyrights from the federal courts to the Library of Congress. Although the specific laws have changed since then, the basic structure remains intact. The Library of Congress is still the place to register your copyright.
This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
- Reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords (sound recordings)
- Prepare derivative works based upon the work
- Distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
- Perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audio visual works
- Display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audio visual work
- Perform the work publicly (in the case of sound recordings*) by means of a digital audio transmission
According to the US Government publication, Copyright Basics, you can register a single work, or multiple unpublished works if the elements bear a single title identifying the collection as a whole.
The US Copyright Online Registration Process
1. Make a copy of your music
This could include sheet music, lyric sheet, audio MP3, CD, cassette tape, LP or video medium.
2. Register Online
Point your browser to www.copyright.gov and click the ‘eCo Login’ (Electronic Copyright Office) hot-spot area.
3. Continue to the login screen.
Enter your personal data necessary to create an account. Once your account is opened, you will use this login every time you’d like to make a copyright application.
4. From the main registration screen, click on ‘Register a New Claim’.
Answer the questions in step one of the registration process and click the ‘Start Registration’ button. Be ready to answer questions about yourself, the work you are copyrighting, and where you would like the copyright mailed.
Complete all sections.
Pay the $35 fee with a credit or debit card, electronic check, or a copyright office deposit account debit.
Upload an electronic copy of your work.
Several file types are accepted. Check with the Copyright Office’s complete list to verify compatibility.
This process is faster than the ‘snail mail’ although it still can take several months.
The US Copyright Mail-in Registration Process
To register by mail, be sure to download the proper form. The forms are available at www.copyright.gov/forms/ . The form for a Sound Recording is Form SR. The Performing Arts Form, from CD’s to live music it Form PA. Consult the website FAQ for more information and to decide which form suites your circumstances.
Remember, this is a government entity so unnecessary confusion and convolution is required.
The mail-in process can take up to fifteen months and costs $45, instead of eight months and a cost of $35 for online application.
When processed, you will receive your Certificate of Registration. Your copyright is effective however, the day that your materials are received by the copyright office.
The Poor Man’s Copyright Method
There is a age-old myth that if you record a song, stick it in an envelope, and mail it to yourself (or Mother), this will guarantee a copyright. In theory, the postmark date serves as the proof of creation date, provided the envelope remains sealed. This method has been proved ineffective in several court cases since envelopes can be carefully unsealed and resealed rather easily.
There is no better or easier method of copyrighting your songs then the above outlined channels.
If you live outside the USA and you are wondering if your rights are available only in your home country, the Berne Convention has a reciprocity clause. This states that you are granted a copyright under the law of the country in which you created the work, provided the country has ratified the convention. If copies of your music turn up in other ratified countries, you will still have rights preserved for your music.
Write, write and rewrite,