How to Copyright Your Music

Symbolized by © (circled C), copyright can apply to a range of intellectual, creative or artistic works. The circled P refers to the copyrighting of sound recordings. A copyright grants the applicant the exclusive right to make and control the distribution of copies of musical, literary, dramatic, pictorial and other works. The copyright exists for a stated period, which is usually until 70 years after the death of the surviving author of the work. Copyright also gives the holder the right to receive credit for his copyrighted work and to decide who may adapt, perform and financially benefit from the work.

United States copyright law kicks in automatically when the work is created, and a work is considered to be created when it is fixed in a copy. So as the first step to copyrighting your music you need to record, write down or log it into a records file of some sort. However, to fully protect your music and give yourself a legal standpoint in the event of any sort of copyright infringement, you will need to register your music with the Copyright Office of the U.S. Government. By doing this you have an indisputable record of proof that you are the owner of the music.

When music is written as a group effort in a band, it is advisable to draw up an agreement stating which rights belong to which band member and how royalties would be dealt with if a member of the band leaves. Successful commercial bands often treat the band as an incorporated company, with band members owning shares that would be sold to other band members in the event of a split. Copyrighting does not apply to band names, slogans or single phrases. Band names may be protected as a trade mark through trademark offices.

Some musicians have been led to believe that the so-called “poor man’s copyright” is legally binding. This is when the creator of the work mails his work to himself through registered mail and uses the postmark on the envelope to establish the date. The U.S. Copyright Office has emphasized that the poor man’s copyright is no substitute for proper registration and will not be recognized by any United States court of law.

In addition to copyrighting their music, musicians need to be mindful of infringing on existing copyrighted material. It is in every serious musician’s best interest to become familiar with the guidelines relating to the copyright of music.