Simply put, copyright is intellectual property protection. It is the legal right given to the original creator of a work that grants him or her, the exclusive rights to its use and distribution. Being the original writer or recorder of a song automatically gives you copyright protection. But still, to be fully entitled to all the privileges of the copyright law, you would need to register your song with the U.S Copyright Office.
The most basic requirement is that the song must be originally/initially created by you. You can copyright music and or lyrics, but you can’t copyright a title.
To register online
Make a recording of your song
The very first step to getting copyright protection for your song is recording it. The point of this is to have some tangible proof of your creation. You can record it by putting down the lyrics or singing and recording with taped or digital sound recording. It is automatically copyrighted as soon as it is recorded, but you still have to take the further step of registering it to have it fully and legally copyrighted.
Visit the Copyright Office Website and register an account
You can register by mail or online. Online registrations are cheaper, easier and faster and would take 5 months to be processed as opposed to registering by mail that could take up to 15 months. To register an account go to the copyright website and click on the option for Register a copyright and then click on the Electronic Copyright Office option; it will take you to a screen where you can make your online copyright registration.
Complete the copyright registration application
After registering for the online account, you’ll be required to complete the registration forms. Make sure to read the instructions carefully and follow them. You may also choose to register by mail instead.
Pay the fee for the registration
The next step would be to pay the registration fee. There is no one required medium of payment thankfully; you can pay with a credit or debit card, or you can do an ACH transfer. If you earlier chose to register by mail, you can send the fee by check. The online registration fee ranges from $35 for registering a work with a single author to $85 for a paper registration.
Upload a copy of your song
You can submit a copy of your song digitally or you can send a hardcopy. Be sure to send the hardcopy in a box and not an envelope. The number and type of copies required would be described on the site.
Wait for your copyright application to be processed
After taking all the steps listed out, the next thing to do would be to wait for your registration application to be processed. It is advisable to log into your account frequently to check the status of the registration.
How to Register by mail (US)
Get the form CO
You can download the form from the US Copyright Office website, or you could call the office and request for the forms. You can also get the form by mail at the US Library of Congress, Copyright Office, Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20559. There are different types of forms available, so you would need to carefully choose which of them you actually need. They forms are:
Form SR: the form for registering a copyright for sound recordings.
Form PA: this form covers recordings of live performances.
Form CO: the form for registering any sound recording or performing art recording.
Complete the form
Read the attached instructions carefully and fill out the exact details required. You can also contact the Copyright Office if you encounter any difficulty.
Submit the required materials
You should submit them by putting them in a package. They usually are the completed form, the registration fee and a copy or copies of the song. You can submit by mailing it Copyright Office’s address. You can get the address from the website.
Wait for the registration to be processed
This could take up to 8 to 15 months. When it has been dully processed you will receive a certificate of registration.
What are the benefits of copyrighting your music?
Distribution of your music
Now that you have the exclusive rights to your songs, you can go ahead and distribute or sell it in the forms of sheet music, records, tapes, CDs and any other kind of digital media. In addition to that, any other person who wishes to create and distribute further copies must get a mechanical license for the song from you and also pay a royalty fee. Using the song in a video or motion picture also requires that a synchronization license is obtained.
Performances of your music
Other people willing to perform the song would need authorization from you in the form of a public performance license and would also be required to pay you a royalty fee. This is required in occasions where the song is performed live, played on radio, television, on the internet or streamed on a streaming service.
Anyone who infringes on your copyright in any way or who uses your song in the above contexts without your permission is vulnerable to further action.
Copyrighting your song is giving it protection and insurance and from the steps highlighted in this article, it is a relatively easy thing to do. It would certainly be in your best interest to go and copyright your songs and music as soon as you are happy with the final output product. For more information on how music copyright affects you and your music, visit this PRS article.