How to Copyright a Music Album

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

How to Copyright a Music Album

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

Artists can take advantage of copyright law to protect their original music. You automatically obtain basic protections for an original musical work as soon as you fix it in a format in which others can hear it. Even though some level of protection is automatic, it is a good idea to register your work. Registration increases your legal rights and remedies and allows you to bring a lawsuit to enforce your ownership over the work if someone uses your composition without your permission.

Woman singing into a microphone in a studio

Automatic Protection

A song you have thought of in your head but never played or recorded has no legal protection, but one that you have recorded in a digital format does. A copyright automatically attaches to original music when the composer records it or writes it down. For example, you could write the composition out by hand or record it as an audio file. Musical performances also receive automatic legal protection as soon as they are recorded.

If your work includes music and lyrics, your ownership of the work protects the composition as a whole and the lyrics and music on their own. If you record an album, an additional sound recording copyright covers that specific performance as embodied in your recording. For example, the song "Thriller" and a recording of Michael Jackson singing "Thriller" are two distinct works.

Copyright Registration

You can either register copyrights for each song individually or you can do one application for the album as a whole. Registering your album as a whole is the easiest and cheapest method if all of the songs have the same author and ownership, as each registration filing is a separate process that requires a separate fee. However, applying to protect songs individually may enhance your protections and give you the opportunity to recover more damages in the event that multiple songs experience infringement.

If you want to register on your own with the U.S. Copyright Office, you can do so online by taking the following steps.

1. Create an account.

First, go to the office's registration portal, click on the "Log in to eCO" button, create an account, and click on the link to Register a New Claim. You need to answer questions as to what type of work you are trying to protect. When asked if you are applying to protect one work, select No. If you are protecting an album as a whole, you are still registering multiple songs.

2. Provide information as requested.

Next, provide more information about your work, such as when you completed the album, whether you have distributed the work to the public, and information about the album's author. If you are applying to protect the work as a whole, describe the work as a Compilation of Musical Compositions in the "Other" field when asked about the type of authorship.

If your album contains any cover songs or lyrics, you can exclude the music and lyrics by using the Limitations of Claim section. You should exclude any song to which you do not have complete rights.

3. Pay the filing fee.

You need to pay a small filing fee to register your musical work. The amount of the fee depends on whether you submit an application to protect one song or multiple songs. The fee is higher if you apply to protect multiple songs or a complete album.

4. Submit copies of your songs.

You must submit a copy of your songs or album to the U.S. Copyright Office. This is called a deposit of your work. The office accepts audio files in most digital audio formats. If you have questions about file types, consult the office's List of Acceptable File Types. Alternatively, you can mail in a hard copy of your album on a CD or cassette tape. There is an additional fee for sending a hard copy.

5. Wait for a response.

Once you have submitted your completed application, you will receive a receipt. Retain this receipt as proof of your application. The U.S. Copyright Office may take six months or more to process your forms, and the office may contact you regarding any issues with your application.

Properly completing the registration process is important for protecting your creative work. Make sure to follow the steps carefully to ensure that your work is fully protected by the law.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.