How Do I Copyright My Lyrics for Free?

By Lisa Magloff

Copyright protects an “original work of authorship," including song lyrics, from unauthorized use. Copyright of original work is free and automatic. However, it will be difficult to prove your copyright if it isn't registered with the United States Copyright Office, which charges a fee.

Automatic Copyright

Copyright is automatic as soon as a work is created. For example, as soon as lyrics are written down. The problem is that there is a difference between the legal fact that you own the copyright and your ability to prove this in court. If you want to sue someone for copyright infringement, that is, for using your work without your permission, you will need to show in court that you created the lyrics first. This may be difficult unless you have some type of proof.

Poor Man's Copyright

Some people, seeking to obtain proof that they created a work on a certain date, use a “poor man's copyright." In a poor man's copyright, you mail yourself a copy of your work by certified mail, leaving the envelope sealed. The idea is that you can then unseal the dated envelope in court to prove the work was written on a certain date. The problem with this method is that it may not stand up very well in court. There are ways to fake a poor man's copyright, for example, by mailing yourself an unsealed envelope and then sealing it at a later date. The courts are aware of this and may give very little weight to this type of proof of copyright. Whether it is enough for you to prevail in a lawsuit will depend on your individual circumstances.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Other Options

Certain organizations like The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP, allow you to register your works online for free. They then license your work, distribute royalties and police for unauthorized use. The U.S. Copyright Office notes on its website that while copyright is automatic, in order to bring a lawsuit for infringement, your copyright must be registered with the USCO. So while these sites will protect your copyright, simply registering your work with them may be not enough to prove copyright in court.

Official Registration

Registering a copyright with the USCO costs $35, as of 2011. However, for this fee you can register any number of lyrics, as long as they were all written by the same person. If you have 100 or more songs to register, you will only pay pennies per song. You can fill out the copyright registration form online. You will also need to submit a copy of the lyrics – this can also be done electronically. It will take a few months to process the copyright, but your work is protected from the day you complete and upload the forms. This is the surest way to protect your ownership of your lyrics.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
How to Publish Poetry for Free and Get It Copyrighted
 

References

Related articles

How to Copyright Sewing Patterns

If you want to protecting sewing patterns, it's complicated. Because copyright is all about protecting expression, it can protect the original text and images appearing in the pattern, as well as the envelope used to contain the pattern. However, the protection doesn’t extend to the ideas expressed in the pattern itself. Anyone can use these ideas to create an identical design.

How to Get a Card Game Copyrighted

Copyright doesn't protect the idea of a card game or the basic method of playing it. However, it does protect specific text or graphics used in the game. The actual text of the rules, art on the box or packaging, and custom pictures and text on the cards are all generally protected by copyright. A game has copyright protection as soon as it is in a fixed form (printed, for example), so you are not required to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. But registration has several benefits: It helps prove that you own the work, you can sue an infringer in federal court, and if you register soon enough you can win attorney fees and statutory damages. So if you plan to publish a card game, it's probably a good idea to register it first.

How to Copyright a Quotation

Quotations are not typically copyrighted; rather, the work of which the quotation is a part of is the copyrighted work. It can be difficult to ensure that a quotation receives copyright protection because "fair use" permits excerpts of a copyrighted work to be used for limited scholarly and educational purposes. However, there are several steps authors can take to protect their quotations and, depending on the length of quotation and how it is published, they may be able to enforce their copyrights.

Related articles

Copyright Registration Advantages & Disadvantages

Copyright protection ensures that creators of original works can profit from their creations, by protecting them ...

How to Get a Copyright for an Instrumental

An instrumental work receives copyright protection as soon as it has been written down or recorded. Registration with ...

Do I Have to Copyright Every Poem I Write?

Poems enjoy automatic copyright protection the moment you record them in a tangible form, such as writing them down on ...

How to Copyright Choreography

A copyright affords protection to creators and owners of unique intellectual property that is fixed in some permanent, ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED