How to Copyright Music & Lyrics

By River Braun, J.D.

How to Copyright Music & Lyrics

By River Braun, J.D.

An artist invests a significant amount of time composing music and writing lyrics, and copyright laws protect their original works from unauthorized use. Even though copyright of original work is free and automatic as soon as the musical notes or lyrics are written down, it can be extremely hard to prove authorship and exclusive rights to music and lyrics if the author does not register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Without an officially registered copyright, it can be difficult to win a copyright infringement lawsuit in court.

Man wearing glasses using guitar and writing music

Many composers and songwriters choose to protect their right to control the use of their work by copyrighting their music and lyrics. Fortunately, the process of registering a copyright for music and lyrics is straightforward and affordable. You can register your copyright for music and lyrics online through the Electronic Copyright Office by following these basic steps.

  1. Create an account. If you are a new user, create an account. Enter your name, email address, user ID, password, and answer the challenge questions.
  2. Format your submission. Verify that your submission is in an acceptable file format. For an audio submission, acceptable formats include MP3 audio files, Windows Wave sound files, and Audio Interchange File Format. Acceptable written documents include Microsoft Word Documents, Text Files, Portable Document Format, and other popular text documents.
  3. Complete the online application. Include all of the information requested by the application or you risk delay or denial. You will be asked to provide your full legal name, the name of the work, a description of the work, and your contact information.
  4. Pay the Fees. Pay the fee using a credit card, debit card, a copyright office deposit account, or ACH transfer through pay.gov. For an updated list of fees, check out the Register of Copyrights.
  5. Upload your files. Submit your work by uploading the audio or digital file in an approved file format. You may also mail the file to the U.S. Copyright Office. If you intend to mail the file, you can print a shipping label after you indicate you are mailing a hard copy of your work. The U.S. Copyright Office recommends mailing works in boxes instead of envelopes to avoid damage due to the security measures on Capitol Hill. Also, CDs and DVDs packaged in full-sized jewel boxes are more likely to avoid damage from the mail radiation process than items packaged in slim-line cases.
  6. Verify application acceptance. You should receive an email confirmation for your copyright registration. Your copyright should be effective as soon as the U.S. Copyright Office receives the application and work unless you receive a notification that your application has been rejected.

Obtaining copyright protection for your music and lyrics doesn't have to be a chore. By following these easy steps, you can protect your work for your lifetime plus 70 years. Of course, if art is more your thing and paperwork tends to stress you out, you can always enlist the help of a copyright attorney or an online service provider to obtain copyright protections.

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.