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‘Copyright’ is a set of exclusive rights granted to the owner of an original work, once the work is expressed and fixed in a tangible form.  In short, it provides the right to produce, reproduce, distribute and publish the work.

For more information about copyright in general, click to read:  What is Copyright & Information on Copyright — Copyright Explained in 5 Easy Tips.

How to Copyright a Song – The First Step to Copyright Protection
Copyright arises automatically upon an author’s or creator’s expression of an idea in an original, fixed form (for example, on paper, CD, floppy disk, etc.).  In other words, if you write the lyrics to a song on a napkin, it is a ‘literary work’ and you own the copyright.  If you write the lyrics and the notes to a song on a napkin, it is a ‘literary and musical work’, and you own the rights.  Sounds easy, but unless you can prove you are the original creator of the song, you may run into expensive and time-consuming legal problems defending your work in the event of infringement.

As such, registering your work may help you with the proof of ownership you need.

To Minimize the Vulnerability of your Songs – Follow These Copyright Protection Steps:

1.    Put your song into a tangible form (for example, on paper, CD, floppy disc, etc.).  This is absolutely critical!
2.    Register your song with a third party that provides a time-stamped registration certificate.  This certificate provides protection and proof against infringers, as it guarantees the day and time you submitted your song.  It’s best to register your work as soon as it is complete to ensure you have the earliest time-stamp possible.
a.    Note: do not rely on the ‘Poor Man’s Copyright Method’ (i.e., registered mail, emailing yourself) because it is highly unlikely to hold in a court of law.
3.    Maintain a copy of your registration certificate in the event infringement occurs. This is a key piece of evidence used to help prove you were the original creator of the lyrics or music.
a.    Note: some online copyright registration services will preserve a copy of your work and your registration certificate so you don’t have to.
4.     In the case where multiple people are involved in making the song, keep all documentation/contracts stating who contributed what to the project.

Copyright Service for Songs – Do your Research
In the event of copyright infringement, one must be able to prove ownership of the work in question.
There are many copyright services out there (Government, Guilds, Online, etc.); however, many can be costly and may not protect your song for the life of copyright (unless you renew your membership).

When searching for a copyright service, ensure you understand the terms of the registration.  Some questions to ask include:

  • Is there a membership fee?
  • Are there renewal fees to maintain the registration?
  • Is the protection for the life of copyright?
  • When will you receive your time-stamped registration certificate?
  • Can you access your registered work or your registration certificate anytime?
  • Where is the copy of your song kept?  Do you send a hard copy or an electronic file?
  • If it’s an online copyright service, can you have a free trial?
  • Do courts of law recognize the validity of the information gathered on the certificate?

Copyright Songs Cost – Keep an Eye Open for Hidden Costs
The cost of copyright registration can vary dramatically.  It can range from as little as $4 per song to $60 per song.
When evaluating your copyright service for songs, ensure you know all costs – fixed and re-occurring.  As well, keep an eye out for membership fees or renewal fees that must be paid for your registration to remain valid.  An important question to ask yourself is: Would I rather pay $10 now to protect my work, or much more in court to defend it?

Kate Henderson is an Entertainment and Intellectual Property lawyer who reviewed this Copyright Creators articles. The above is meant as a guide to further your copyright knowledge and does not constitute legal advice.  For questions about your specific work, you should consult a copyright lawyer in your country.

Copyright Creators (www.copyrightcreators.com), a service inspired by the shortfalls of ‘poor man’s copyright’.  Copyright Creators protects copyright for life with no membership or renewal fees.  Visit Copyright Creators today and you’ll receive 4 free registrations to protect & create proof of your copyright online.

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