How Do I Copyright My Music?

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

How Do I Copyright My Music?

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

If you are a music composer, lyricist, producer, or performer, you might wonder how to protect your music under U.S. copyright law. Copyright is a form of legal protection given to the creator of an original work prohibiting anyone else from using their creation. It also allows them to determine whether or not someone else can in fact use their original work, and under what conditions others can do so.

Man playing guitar

Your music has copyright protection the moment you create it and fix it in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Paper sheet music and CDs are examples of directly perceptible tangible forms, but today, text-based and digital computer files house most musical compositions and performances. Copyright protects music for the entire life of the author plus 70 additional years. For a musical composition, the author is the composer and lyricist. For a sound recording, the author is the performer and producer.

Benefits of Registering

You don't have to register your music in order to obtain copyright protection, but there are still several benefits to registering, namely the fact that it puts the public on notice that you are the owner and have authority over who can use your music, if anyone at all. Registering also allows you to bring an infringement action against others who violate the copyright.

Further, registering your music provides you with greater validity, which can only aid you in the event you have to bring an infringement action against someone else. Ultimately, it creates prima facie evidence that you are the originator of the music. This puts the burden on the infringer to prove that they didn't infringe on your rights, which will be more difficult for the violator to prove.

The Copyright Process Application and Fees

It is rather simple and straightforward to complete the copyright registration process. You can choose to either complete the process through a third party agency or do it yourself. If you choose to do it on your own, you can do so online by visiting the U.S. Copyright website or mail in a paper application. Regardless of which option you chose, you will need to submit one of the following documents to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  • Performing arts: If you want to submit original work for a performing arts piece, you will need to submit Form PA if the material you want to protect is a musical composition or arrangement (music notation and/or lyrics).
  • Sound recordings: If you want to register for protection of a sound recording, such as a melody, rhyme, or entire song, you will need to submit Form SR.

If you want to submit both a performing arts piece along with a sound recording, you can submit a combined application. The U.S. Copyright Office's Circular 56A provides more information on combined PA and SR applications. You'll also have to pay the applicable filing fee with your application. If registering on your own, keep in mind that the fee for filing electronically is cheaper than submitting the application by mail.

Submission of Deposit Material

Along with any application for copyright registration for a musical composition or sound recording, you must submit deposit material, which might differ depending on whether or not you published your music before submitting your copyright application.

The term "published" is the key word here. In this instance, publication refers to the distribution of a musical piece—sound recording or performing arts piece—to the public for the sole purpose of either selling or licensing it. If you published it in printed form, then you have to deposit tangible copies of the printed work. Generally, sound recordings require submission of digital files. However, if you have published your work only in tangible form, e.g. a CD, then you can submit the physical recorded form as your deposit material.

If you have an original musical work, you should strongly consider registering your work for copyright protection. The U.S. Copyright Office provides more information on registering musical compositions (Circular 50) and detailed guidance regarding the registration of sound recordings (Circular 56). Remember that it can only help you in the long-run to ensure that potential infringers don't violate your rights.

 

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.