Procedure for Copywriting Music

by Holly Cameron
You can copyright music even if you don't publish it.

You can copyright music even if you don't publish it.

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A copyright protects an original musical work from unlicensed reproduction, sale or copying. Copyright protection exists in a musical work from the moment it is created in a tangible form. Although registration with the United States Copyright Office is not required by law, it is recommended as a method of establishing a permanent record of your creative work. Title 17 of the United States Code sets out the laws relating to copyright in the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended.

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Musical Works

Section 102 of the Copyright Act states that copyright exists in original works that have been fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This means that you only have copyright protection if you write the music down or record it in a physical form. A tune that exists merely in someone’s head is not protected by copyright. The Act states that musical works include any accompanying words if applicable.


To register a musical work, you should complete application form CO, available only from the U.S. Copyright Office website. You should then submit the completed application accompanied by a copy of the work to the U.S. Copyright Office either by mail or electronically via the website. The fee for online registration is $35 and for postal registration is $50. The U.S. Copyright Office retains the copy of your work together with your details as a public record.

Acceptable File Types

You can register music with the U.S. Copyright Office in any tangible form including sheet music, a CD, cassette or vinyl disc. You may also upload an electronic version of your work, if applicable. The copyright office has published a list of acceptable file types for audio works that include .ra (real audio files), .wav (Windows wave sound files) and .mid (musical instrument digital interface files). The complete list is available on the U.S. Copyright Office website.

Notice of Copyright

Once you register your musical work, you can place a notice of copyright on any published copy, according to Section 401 of the Copyright Act. For sheet music, you can place the symbol © or the word “copyright” on the work, together with the year of first publication and the name of the copyright owner. For sound recordings, the notice comprises the year of first publication, the name of the owner and the letter "P" in a circle.