How Do I Copyright My Lyrics for Free?

By Lee Hall, J.D.

How Do I Copyright My Lyrics for Free?

By Lee Hall, J.D.

Copyright protects original, creative work, including song lyrics, from unauthorized use. Copyright is free because it's inherently the author's work as soon as the work exists in a fixed form—on paper or in a computer document.

Authors take the extra step to register their work to make the existing copyright enforceable. In other words, should a songwriter wish to defend the work in court from a copyright infringement, the copyright registration serves as proof that the songwriter created it.

Musician in fedora playing guitar with sheets of music in front of him

Online Copyright Protection Services

Copyright provides intellectual property protection by the government for original (published or unpublished) literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, or visual works. The government handles the registration process for a reasonable fee.

As set forth in Section 101 of the U.S. Copyright Act, registration of a work of authorship with the Copyright Office is not necessary for copyright protection. However, free online registration for song lyrics is available on the web. To protect your lyrics using one of these services:

  1. Type "Free Music Registration & Copyright Protection" into your browser, and choose a service from the search results.
  2. Follow the directions on the website to upload your music.
  3. Provide information regarding the title, author, and other details when prompted.
  4. Download the documentation the website provides, and keep it in a safe place.

Should you ever need to bring a lawsuit for infringement, you are in a better position to sue if you hold registration with the U.S. Copyright Office.

When to Use the U.S. Copyright Office's Online Services

You may take an infringer to court even without registration. However, the holder of a registered copyright has prima facie evidence of copyright ownership—a solid basis for enforcement. Moreover, the holder of a registered copyright can ask the court for statutory damages and attorney fees.

You may copyright your lyrics through the U.S. Copyright Office's electronic filing system, known as eCO. Use the Performing Arts category to register your lyrics.

Date-Stamping Written Work

Some people still believe the so-called poor man's copyright exists. The idea involves notarizing or self-mailing your work using a self-addressed envelope and certified mail. In this scenario, the author has a sealed and delivered envelope they can later present in court if they have to prove the time of creation.

There is no provision in U.S. copyright law—and no case law—that confirms these or any other date-stamping methods as legally valid. Nor do they prove who authored the work. Thus, mailing or notarizing lyrics, or otherwise date-stamping them, does not serve as a free alternative to government registration.

The best method is to pay the fee and receive a valid copyright registration. If that is not possible, the internet does offer more alternatives. Some composers use crowdfunding methods to fund the costs of producing creative work.

Copyright is free. Paying the fee for the Copyright Act's formal protection is the best way to protect your sole right to perform, distribute, reproduce, or sell access to your works and derivative works and prevent others from unjustly profiting from your work.

Your intellectual property is a valuable asset. When you take the step of registration, you ensure your fullest protection under 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.