How to copyright song

Posted: February 29th, 2008 | Category: Songwriting Courses

Copyrighting a song takes two ways:

1. Poor man’s copyright
2. Filing a formal copyright application with the Government copyright office.

In fact, a copyright is created once you make a tangible form of your idea. Any idea cannot be copyrighted only when it is being converted to a tangible form. For example, let say in your idea, you create a brilliant melody of your song. The moment you write it down to a paper (tangible form) by writing notes, a copyright is created. This now means by law, you are the creator of the work.

Copyrighting a song makes you earn money for your songs. Yes because, any song is an asset and the use of a copyright material needs a license to use. I will teach you later what are the various income a songwriter can earn because of copyright.

Take note that a song ownership or copyright takes two major forms:

1. Ownership of a written song (lyrics and melody)

Picture, a sample written song (lyrics and chords)

Written song lyrics and melody

2. Ownership of the recorded song

The above two major forms means that even if you create the song lyrics and melody, you might not own the copyright of the recorded song. Or in the other way around, it means that even if you own the recording of the song, you may not own the ownership of a written song.

In music and entertainment industry, ownership of a written song belongs to songwriters/artists/band members and ownership of the recorded belongs to the recording label/recording producer.

Now that home recording is very common, an indie artist can own both the copyright of a song and the recording. It is because the artist writes the song and records it in his garage studio.

To make sure you own the copyright of both major forms (song and recording), you must provide proofs that own both forms.

As discussed above, there are two ways to own a song and the recording:

1. Poor man’s copyright- as the name suggest, it is a method of copyrighting a work without paying copyright fees to government agencies. This is done by placing your written song lyrics (in a paper with notes/chords in it) and the raw song recording (it could be in a CD, cassette tape or any tangible recording medium) inside a mail envelope. Then you will go to the post office and mail it to yourself. Why mailing it yourself?

Poor man's copyright

It is because, a registered mail envelope from a post office has a stamp/seal on it bearing the date (this date can be acknowledge by law as the date the work has been created)

Keep in mind below when doing a poor man’s copyright:

a. Do not ever open the envelope.Keep the stamp and seal preserved and intact. It will be used as evidences in claiming your work in case there are copyright related cases in the future.

b. Make sure your name is on the envelope, written.

c. Keep your envelope in a personal secret place and do not get it lost.

The advantages of doing a poor man’s copyright is that it is very cheap (the cost involves only the mailing process). And you can obtain this copyright in a very short time (less than a week) from the time you went to the post office and by the time the post man delivers the envelope to you.

The disadvantages of doing this method are:
a. In legal court, this type of evidence is possibly admissible in some countries but is not admissible in the United States court of law.
b. Lesser importance means you are likely to receive less claim from copyright infringement cases.
c. In a court battle, it is very hard to convince this type of evidence to claim a work as there are many forgeries involved. But it depends on the copyright lawyers handling the case.

2. Filing a formal copyright application with the Government copyright office.
This is the recommended way to document your copyrighted work. This method involves securing a copyright application form (get a form that will enable you to own the copyright of a song and the recording). Below is a snapshot of a copyright application form SR:

Form SR (Copyright)

Bear in mind that when filing for US Copyright (music,lyrics and recording), there are two forms to take note:

a. Form PA- used in filing the copyright/ in claiming the ownership of the song music and lyrics.
b. Form SR- used in filing the copyright/ in claiming the ownership of the song recording.

Now this means that if you own both song (lyrics and music) and recording. It is recommended to file both. Although this may seem expensive but this the surefire way to have both forms protected by law.

If you just a songwriter, and someone will record the song, for example a recording producer/major label. Then a Form PA will do just fine.

For detailed information and downloading of forms visit:US Copright Office

How about if you are not based in US? There is what we call as “Berne Convention”. In this agreement, it says that a protected/copyright song filed in a certain country member of a “Berne Convention”,the copyright extends and also applicable in other countries of the convention.

Let say, I file a copyright in Philippine and is a member of Berne Convention. Then this copyright protection extends also in other countries like US and others. This are the list of countries under the Berne Convention

Now even though Berne Convention exist to helps us save money to file copyright in all countries, to maximize protection you should a file copyright under the county where the song will be heavy promoted. This is because, there are also higher risk of copyright infringement.

As a summary, there are two ways to copyright a song, and it takes two major forms of which you should take note. And the most recommended way is to file a copyright in a government office to maximize protection. Remember the Berne convention and check the countries where your song will be heavy promoted and file copyright on that country to further protect your songs.

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