How to Professionally Copyright Music

By Jim Thomas

A copyright is an exclusive right that allows the creator of intellectual property, such as music, to control the use of his work for a certain number of years. You can copyright your music without going through the formal process of registering with the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright attaches automatically to sheet music or a musical performance you record or produce as soon as it is written, recorded or produced -- all you need to do is write, for example, "Copyright by John Doe 2012 " on work and copyright automatically affixes. However, the professional way to copyright music to best protect your intellectual property rights, is to file it with the Copyright Office. As Circular 56A from the Copyright Office explains, it "must have acted on your application before you can file a suit for copyright infringement." Also, certain remedies, including statutory damages and attorney's fees, can only be awarded if an infringement occurs after the date of registration.

Step 1

Determine if your musical work is a performance arts work or a sound recording. A performing arts work includes music and/or words in written form, such as sheet music and lyrics. It applies to composers and lyricists. A sound recording is a tangible musical composition in the form of a CD or other form of recording. It applies to producers and performers. If you are both the author of the music and its performer on a recording, you can register your work as both a musical composition and a sound recording in the same application.

Step 2

File the appropriate paperwork with the U.S. Copyright Office. Online registration using the electronic Copyright Office, or eCO, is preferred. To register online, go to the Copyright Office website and click on "electronic Copyright Office." If you are filing a musical composition for copyright registration, use Form PA. If you are filing a sound recording, use Form SA. If you are the owner of both the musical composition and the sound recording, you can file to register them both by using form SA.

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Step 3

Deposit the appropriate copies of your work with the Copyright Office. If your work has not been published, either upload one copy electronically or send it by mail to the Copyright Office. If your work has been published, send two copies of your work. Only certain file types, including MP3 and Windows Media Audio Files, are accepted. A list of acceptable file types is available on the U.S. Copyright Office website. The mailing address for applications filed on paper and hardcopy deposits is Library of Congress, U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, Washington, DC 20559. The phone number of the U.S. Copyright Office is 202-707-3000.

Step 4

Pay the appropriate filing fees. The fees involved in registering musical works are not expensive; it is less expensive to file online than by mail. The Copyright Office encourages online payment and accepts credit and debit cards.

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Proving a Violation of a Copyright

A copyright protects an original creation that has been fixed in a medium, such as a song in a digital file or a story published in a book. To prove a claim of copyright infringement, a copyright owner must show that the infringer copied the protected elements of the original work without permission. Proving that an owner's copyright has been violated can be a challenge.

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 the U.S. Copyright office is not required; however, registering an instrumental work helps protect your rights in several important ways. It helps prove that you own the work, it lets you sue an infringer, and if you win a lawsuit it lets you collect attorney's fees and collect damages without proving that you actually lost money. Because of this, copyright registration is probably a good idea if there is any chance that someone will copy your music illegally. An instrumental work generally has two parts: the musical composition itself, written by a composer, and recordings of one or more musicians playing the music. These two parts are treated as separate works under U.S. copyright law. Generally, the composition is owned by the composer and the recording is owned by the musician.

How to Copyright Something in Canada

Under Canadian law, a copyright is created as soon as you reduce an original work of authorship to tangible form. Full legal protection, however, does not attach until you register your copyright with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. You don't have to be a Canadian citizen or resident to obtain copyright protection or register your copyright. Copyright protection in Canada guarantees you copyright protection in any nation that has signed an international copyright treaty.


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