Copyright 101: Creation Of A Copyright

Now that you’ve written and recorded a song, how do you protect it? How do you copyright it?

The good news is that as long as it is your original song and you’ve written it down or recorded it, the song is entitled to copyright protection. Under the Copyright Law, a song is immediately entitled to copyright protection upon the satisfaction of the following criteria:

  1. It must be an “original work[] of authorship”; and
  2. It must be fixed “in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed,” such as written sheet music or a CD, MP3, or other recording.

Unless you created the song as part of your job in your capacity as an employee, or unless you created the song for someone else as a “work made for hire” pursuant to a written agreement, you, as the creator of the song own the copyright interests in the song. As discussed in an earlier post, those interests would generally include the musical work copyright and the sound recording copyright.

So, is that is? Once you record an original song you own the copyright?

That right. There is no requirement that you actually publish, distribute, or register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.

However, while it is not necessary to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office to enjoy copyright protection, there are certain advantages to registration, including the following:

  1. Registration creates a public record of the copyright claim;
  2. Registration is required before an infringement suit can be brought in federal court;
  3. Registration of a musical work is required to receive compulsory license fees;
  4. Registration before publication or within 5 years of publication establishes a presumption of the validity of the copyright;
  5. Registration within 3 months after publication or prior to an infringement entitles the owner to statutory damages and attorneys’ fees; and
  6. Registration permits registration with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.

So, while registration is not required, copyright owners are well advised to file their copyrights with the Copyright Office. As a case I discussed in a prior post demonstrates, the failure to timely register a copyright can create serious legal hassles and expenses that can be easily avoided with early registration.

In lieu of registration, some people elect to take the “poor man’s” copyright route. The idea is that you mail yourself a copy of your song and don’t open the package so as to have proof of the date by which the song was created from the postmark. While this is certainly better than nothing, as noted above, the failure to register the copyright upon creation means you may not have the right to compulsory license fees, statutory monetary damages, and attorneys’ fees in the event your copyright is infringed. Without compulsory license fees, statutory damages, and attorney’s fee, the failure to properly register may help to make sure that you continue to be a “poor man” in the event you have to enforce your copyright.

Registration is easy and relatively inexpensive. A music copyright can be registered on-line at The fee for registering a copyright is $35.00, and you can simultaneously register musical work and sound recording copyright interests on one form: Form SR. To register the interests separately, use Form PA for the musical work and SR for the sound recording.

Once you have a copyright, be sure to let the world know by including a copyright notice with the distribution of the song. A copyright notice should contain the following elements:

  1. The symbol ©, the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.” (or for “copies” of sound recordings, the symbol (P) (the letter P in a circle)); and
  2. The year of first publication of the work; and
  3. The name of the owner of the copyright.

Here are two examples:

“© 2009 DJ”

“(P) 2009 Counsel Records, Inc.”

The use of a copyright notice is not technically required, but it helps you demonstrate that you’ve informed the public of your rights and can help prevent someone from claiming that they didn’t know about your rights.

This post is the one in a series of posts discussing the basics of music copyright law. This series of posts can be located by selecting the Blog category “Copyright 101.”

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