The Fine Print
Published on: October 07, 2019
For musicians, understanding the law of copyrights can be quite intimidating, but having a solid understanding of this side of the industry is essential!
The good news is, your songs music and lyrics are protected by copyright as soon as they are created, even if it is recorded on your cell phone!
But in order for your music to be fully protected by the law, you will need to understand what a copyright actually is and how to register for one.
In this article we will cover information about copyrights. What they are, why you need one, and how to obtain one. I know its a lot to take in. However, stay with me and youll be one step closer to protecting yourself and your music.
Just to be clear here when I talk about copyrights, I am referring to the American copyright law. Even if you do not live in the U.S. this may still apply to you if you ever plan on releasing music in the U.S. or using music from the U.S.
So what is a copyright?
A Copyright protects various forms of creative expression that are fixed in a tangible form. Specifically, with respect to music, copyrights usually involve two different types of creative expression: musical works and sound recordings (17 U.S. C. 102).
A Musical work refer to the song itself including both music and lyrics. A musical work is what you would see on sheet music.
A Sound recording refers to the specific recording of a musical work. So, if you were to write a song, you would own the copyright on that musical work. If you were to record that song, you would need to own a second copyright for the sound recording.
Technically, the song is copyrighted the moment you write it or record it. However, to get copyright protection your song needs to be registered. Registration give you the right to sue for infringement should someone else recreate or claim your song as their own.
What do you need to obtain a copyright?
To copyright a song, you must record it in some way. Either in written form or as a digital sound recording. It doesnt have to be a perfect mix, but it does need to be audible.
You will need to register HERE
Once you have signed up for an online account, you can fill out a copyright registration form HERE
Next, you will need to pay a fee. Basic registration fees range from $35 for an online registration of one work with a single author to $85 for a paper (by mail) registration.
After that you will need to submit a copy of your work. You may mail copies of your song in paper form or as an audio recording. You may also be given an option to upload the sound recording.
After that, you need to wait. Electronic copyright registrations can take three to five months to process and applications by mail can take seven to 10 monthsl.
Congratulations. You are the legal owner of your creation. In my next article we will cover how to utilize the copyright license and make money in the form of royalties and publishing deals.
Lets begin with another scenario. You want to remake, remix, or play a song that has been written and recorded by another artist. What do you need to do to avoid copyright infringement?
In order to record and distribute a cover song, you need what is called a mechanical license, which grants you the right to record and distribute the musical composition of another artist. Agencies such as Harry Fox Agency, TuneLicensing, and Easy Song Licensing can provide you with a mechanical license which will allow you to use your cover song.
If you want to perform the song live, you should speak with the venue first, as typically they possess these types of licenses already. If you find that they do not have the proper licenses, you need to contact a Performance Rights Organization (PRO). In the United States, the three main PROs are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. These organizations act as an intermediary between song writers and publishers in licensing the right to perform their work publicly.