Why and How to Copyright Your Original Music
by Christine Occhino on September 4, 2019 via Soundfly
As music creators, one of the most important things we can do for ourselves is protect our intellectual property. Every time you write a song, create a melody, or instrumental track, you have made an original piece of material that is at risk for copyright infringement. Even though by technical standards, a work is copyrighted once it's been made into a tangible form, but that often isn’t enough to spare artists the time, money, and heartbreak that comes with having your work stolen without your knowledge, consent, and most of all, compensation. The best strategy to fight this is to do your due diligence and officially register your work by submitting it to the US Library of Congress. This is the only surefire way to ensure you have the necessary legal protection against another artist or business entity trying to infringe upon your creations. There have been countless lawsuits over the years of musicians going after major-label artists in an attempt to retain proper ownership of their musical works. But going up against a billion dollar corporation is no easy feat if you don’t have the valuable legal protection you need to do so. Without a government copyright, it will be near impossible to prove your ownership of a composition of music. Because even if you have basic personal records that are timestamped, a big-wig artist and their reps will just bleed you dry financially taking you in and out of court until you can no longer afford to fight. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but that is the reality. And the sooner you are able to empower yourself with the knowledge needed to protect yourself, the better.
Now onto the “how to” to help you take the next steps in protecting yourself and your musical babies! Like with most government-run websites, there’s a bit of a learning curve to work through the dated “AOL dial-up” type aesthetic, but I assure you that you can do it! With a little help from the step-by-step guide below, you’ll be on your way to registering your own music copyrights and ensuring you’re in good, professional legal shape with your songwriting from this point forward.
STEP 1: Prepare your materials
First, you'll want to compile all of your related music materials in clean and clear formats. Have your song info, split sheets, MP3s, lyrics, and any other important documents readily available and organized.
STEP 2: Create your online account
Next, you’ll need to create an account with the official US copyright website at copyright.gov. Fill out the required contact info and get familiar with the submission platform. There are plenty of tools available on your dashboard to help you understand the “language” used for submissions and process involved if you’re interested in learning every detail, too.
STEP 3: Fill out the online form for your first copyright submission
Make sure you set aside some quiet time to work through all of these forms carefully. The eCo site will bring you through several pages of questions in order to file your copyright, starting with the “Copyright Registration” Section along the left-side menu bar. For most cases, you’ll want to focus your attention on “Register a Work,” clicking on “Standard Application.” After that, the following page will help confirm that you've chosen the correct application to fill out, followed by a series of yes/no questions indicating whether or not your work qualifies for the standard application process. Then, you'll select your type of work, and enter titles, publication status, author info, claimant info, rights and permissions, correspondence contact, and mailing address. Finally, it's time to certify and review your application!
STEP 4: Make your payment
This next step will take you to a separate website to collect your payment. Payments are accepted in the form of either credit card or ACH. The cost is currently $55 per song registration through the standard song recording app. Though it might seem like a bit much at first glance, remember that wouldn't even buy you an hour of time getting advice from a lawyer if you had to go to court over a copyright infringement violation, so better to be safe than sorry!
STEP 5: Submit your supplemental materials
Once payment has been confirmed, it's time to send in your song materials. Accepted file formats are clearly listed, so just make sure to follow the directions! Upload electronic copies of your work to this page, and make sure to wait until everything has loaded completely and successfully before you refresh or click through to the last step.
STEP 6: Receive your digital and hard-copy confirmations
Once you send everything in online, you'll receive immediate confirmation of the receipt of your files and payment. Then you can typically expect the hard copies to come in the mail within the next six months or so. But copyright protection is in effect instantly from online submission acceptance, so no need to worry about the wait!
And that’s all folks! Simple enough, and the process gets faster and faster each time as you get more familiar. For any other questions regarding online copyright submissions, you can find a helpful FAQ page from the eCO Help Desk here. Good luck, and go on empowered to write more (protected) musical masterpieces!
Christine Elise Occhino (@XtineElise) is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for the music business. In addition to being a vocalist herself, she is the CEO of Elise Music Group, Artistic Director of The Pop Music Academy, and owner of Stamford Recording Studio. She is also the proud Founder & Executive Director of Hope in Harmony, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that uses music to help and heal those in need. Christine is a member of the Grammy Recording Academy, the American Society of Composers, Authors, & Publishers, and Berklee College of Music Alumni Association. She has experience speaking on many music industry panels, has been a contributing writer for music business publications for over a decade, and also currently hosts the music-based web series & podcast, Soundbytez. For more about Christine, visit XtineElise.com.