Musicians & Copyright Law

by Ciele Edwards
Protect your musical compositions by registering your copyright.

Protect your musical compositions by registering your copyright.

Polka Dot RF/Polka Dot/Getty Images

As a musician, you have the right to determine who can use your work and in what context. Copyright law doesn't only apply to commercial entertainers. Individual composers, songwriters and even music teachers can protect their original songs and musical compositions by registering their copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

How It Works

Your creations are your intellectual property and an automatic copyright exists on your songs and musical compositions as soon as you write them. You must register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, however, before you have the right to seek restitution if another individual uses your work without your permission. An online document preparation service can help you with your copyright registration. Once you register your work, the registration becomes a matter of public record – making it easier to trace the original owner of the work should a disagreement arise. You will also receive a certificate of registration noting that you own the official registered copyright for the given piece.


Those who write only song lyrics or only musical compositions require only one copyright to protect their work. If you create an individual song, complete with both lyrics and music, two individual copyrights exist: one for each separate portion of the composition. Thus, you must register two separate copyrights to protect the song in its entirety.


When registering your musical copyright, you have the option to make it available to the public under a variety of different licenses. If, for example, you wish to release your copyright for full public use, you can register the work under a Creative Commons license. Other licenses are available that let you partially release the work or release the work with specific conditions, such as stipulating that the user must attribute you as the original author or composer whenever he uses the piece.

Time Frame

A copyright doesn't last indefinitely. The duration of your copyright varies depending on when you create and when you register the work. For example, a copyright of a work created between 1964 and 1977 expired 28 years from the date the work was created unless the author renewed her copyright. Creative works copyrighted after 1978 generally expire 70 years after the author's death. Once a copyright expires, the public is free to use the work without fear of a lawsuit.