If you recently released a new single or album, it’s important to copyright your new music as soon as possible.
Technically, in order to copyright a song, assuming it’s your original work, it just needs to be made into a tangible form (so if you write it down or record it). However, registering your musical works or sound recordings with the U.S. copyright office provides enforceable protection against those who may try to infringe upon your creation. Without a registered copyright, you cannot access the courts to enforce it.
DIY vs. seeking professional help
As with trademarking a band name, to ensure that your copyright registration process is error-free, you can use an online copyright registration service like the one offered by LegalZoom (affiliate link), or consult a music attorney to register your copyright on your behalf.
Otherwise, to learn how to copyright your song (or songs) with the U.S. copyright office online, take a look at the 6 steps below.
1. Prepare for the process
Before you start filling out and sending the appropriate forms to the government, you want to make sure you have everything in order.
Here’s a list of things you should have available for each song you’re going to copyright:
- Song info (artist, album, and any other applicable information.)
- Split sheets for each song (an agreement that identifies each producer and songwriter, and states the contributor’s ownership percentage of a song.)
2. Go to the U.S. government’s copyright website
Once you have this information readily available, head over to copyright.gov to get started.
Under “How do I…” select “Register a Copyright.”
Then click the “Log in to eCO” button.
3. Create your account
Click on the “new user” option to create your account.
You’ll need to provide the following:
- Country (if not from the USA).
- Phone details.
- Preferred contact method.
4. Start a new copyright registration
Once you’re logged in, it’s time to start a new copyright registration.
To get started, click “Register new claim” in the section on the left side.
If you’re registering multiple songs, check “No” on the box for “I am registering one work.”
Note: An album can be a single work. What is protected is the arrangement of the songs (choice of songs, order in which they appear); an album is a collective work. Thus, a collection of songs has a single author if the person who arranged them is a single person, and that arranger is the author. An example of this occurrence is a various artists album. The person or business entity, who licenses the copyrights in the underlying musical works and sound recordings, is granted authorship and ownership in the selection and arrangement only of the musical titles. Thus, the album has a single author and owner.
Next, select the type of work from the “Type of Work” dropdown.
If you are registering a recording, select “Sound Recordings.” Otherwise, if you wish to register only the underlying work that is a musical composition or song lyrics, select “Performing Arts.”
In some circumstances, an artist/band agrees to an exclusive recording agreement with a label and licenses their rights in the music and lyrics to the label to record the masters, which then the label owns by virtue of their recording agreement. If the artist/band records their own songs, and pays for their own masters, then it is more likely the artist/band will be the author of the sound recording as well as the underlying musical works.
This Q&A explains the difference between a sound recording and performing arts copyright in more detail.
Then click “New,” and start filling in the prompts such as who the co-writers are, published date, etc.
5. Pay the fee (BEFORE uploading your works)
The copyright office requires you to pay the fee before actually uploading the files for your songs.
For one work, the fee is $35. If you’re submitting multiple works, then the fee is $55. You can pay this with a credit card, debit card, electronic check, or copyright office deposit account.
You can take a look at more of the fees associated with copyrights here.
6. Upload your works
After submitting your payment, the site will ask you to upload the appropriate files.
You can upload as many files as you want, but they have an upload size limit which they explain to be about 135 128kbps songs, so when uploading your sound recordings, you may need to re-compress your songs to make them smaller.
Finally, just click “Upload Complete” and you’re done!
Once your application is submitted, it can take a few months for the review process to be completed. The effective date of your copyright will begin on the date that the Copyright Office receives and accepts and the following:
- The filing fee.
- The application.
- All required deposit cop(ies) of the work(s).
Keep in mind that under U.S. copyright law, any knowingly falsified information on a copyright application if learned in a court proceeding can result in a refusal of enforcement of copyright. See 17 USC 411(b).
After copyrighting your songs, it might be a good idea to join a performance rights organization like BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC to start getting paid when people use your music.
If you want to learn more about music and copyright, check out the book All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Don Passman (affiliate link).
Special thanks to entertainment lawyer Lee Morin for helping with corrections and additional details for this article!
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