How to Copyright Your Music

This post was inspired by a personal experience. Recently, it was discovered that a song I had co-written was taken and republished under someone else’s name without my permission. They took the major components of the work, re-framed it, and sold it in a substantial licensing deal. If I had not taken the steps to secure a copyright, there would be almost nothing that I could do.

In the United States, you technically own the copyright for your work as soon as it is created. However, if you want to protect yourself from infringement, I’d recommend spending the money to get a proper copyright registration from the U.S Copyright Office. Please not, this is not the same department if you’d like to get a Trademark (for your name or logo, etc.). That’s a much more lengthy and expensive process.

Here’s how to copyright your music:

  1. Go to U.S. Copyright Office website: http://www.copyright.gov/
  2. In the top right corner, click on “eCO Login,” which will take you to this page.
  3. If you are a new user, you’ll need to register.
  4. In the left hand column, under “Copyright Registration” click on Register a New Claim.
  5. From here, three things will be required: you’ll have to complete the application, make a payment, and then pay for the application (only $35 if you use this system).
  6. Click on “Start Registration” to begin.
  7. On each page, you can click the underlined options for more information. A new window will open up each time so you won’t lose your place. Once you make your selections, click “continue” to proceed.
  8. If you have more than one author (such as a band all working on the song), you’ll have to list every person involved to give them credit.
  9. At the end, you can either print a packing slip to mail them the work or upload one file (you can combine all of your songs into a zip file). Digital registration is much quicker.
  10. After you pay and click” submit work, you’ll be entered into the system for review. Whenever you login to eCO, you can check the status of your work and see if anything is missing.

It should only take you about 30 minutes or so to go through the process (perhaps more time if you are unfamiliar with the terms) but I can assure you it’s quite worth the time. After that, do yourself a favor and get your work set up with ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. For the record, I use ASCAP.

You can also hire an entertainment attorney to help you with the copyright registration but that would cost you a few hundred dollars. No matter what, just make sure you take care of this vital step before you release music out to the public. The sooner, the better.

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