by Frank Ippolito
Copyrighting your music is as easy as going to the library (of Congress).
Let’s say you wake up one morning, fire up Spotify, iTunes or your local Internet radio station like radiophoenix.org, and while listening to Rise! you hear a song that is on your brand spanking new EP.
And you’re like, “Hey that’s cool! I’m on the radio!” And when the silky smooth voiced host announces that it’s a new song from a punk band called “The Douche Hags” (yeah, I just made that up), you’re like, “Wait, what? That’s not me. That’s not my band!” And then you’re like, “Hey, wait! They can’t do that!”
Um, yes they can, because you didn’t register it. Dummy.
Registering your work is one of the most important things you can do to protect your musical rights. If you don’t, no lawyer in the country will be able to get your case in front of a judge. If you do happen to have your day in court, and win, you are not eligible to receive any damages. Sucks, huh?
Now, there has been a lot of talk on how to go about this process. And it’s way easier than writing the song itself. But first, let’s look at ways you shouldn’t protect your goods. And, no genius, mailing it to yourself doesn’t work. No matter what you’ve heard. Sure, it will give you a sense of comfort and prove your work was done on a certain date but it’s a rookie mistake and generally won’t hold up in court.
The basics: There are two kinds of copyrights when it comes to music: Composition and sound recording.
Here’s what a sound recording means: A work resulting from the fixation of a series of musical or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work (Basically, you had words and music and you recorded them).
Here’s what a composition means: Musical compositions are original music, including any accompanying lyrics; also, original arrangements or other derivative versions of earlier musical compositions to which new copyrightable authorship has been added. Music is generally defined as a succession of pitches or rhythms, or both, usually in some definite pattern. Musical works are registrable without regard to aesthetic standards. (Basically, you wrote words and music).
Why can’t they fucking say that?
Here’s a little story to illustrate the difference. Once upon a time…
Let’s say you just wrote and recorded a song. Better yet, let’s make this a little more complicated. Let’s say you wrote the words and music to a song and you rehearsed with a guitar player and drummer. You play the bass. Why bass? Because bass players get the chicks. No matter if you’re a guy or a girl, bass players get chicks.
So, you present the song to the band. You rehearse it and then you record it. You have a couple options. (Yes, you have to register it, sheesh.)
- You put your name on the “composition” (leaving the band members off) and put your name on the “sound recording”, after all you wrote it and recorded it – but you include the band members on the sound recording, because they played on the record.
The above, but you place the band members on the “composition” – because well, even though you wrote the words and music, the drummer came up with a nasty drum part that made the song better, and the guitar player came up with a great lead riff that made the song better (which means your song really sucked), and put them on the “sound recording” because they played on the record.
In the above example, everyone gets a fair share of the pie. (Your .00000000000001 cent royalty from Spotify – don’t spend it all in one place.)
With me so far? Good. (Really, dude in the back? Put your hand down…)
Lastly, you can be a complete dick and put your name on the “composition” and “sound recording” and leave the band off of each. (I don’t recommend this tact, just sayin’).
So far so easy right?
OK, now go here.
This is the U.S. Electronic Copyright Office. Sign up, and then look for “Musical compositions” and “Sound recordings” and begin filling-out the forms. Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of a pain in the ass (aren’t all forms), but it is worth it.
Here’s what you’ll need:
All of your vital information (I’m assuming you got this one).
The name of the album/song(s).
The name of the band members and their addresses and vital information.
You’re going have to decide how to split the copyright by percentages so be ready with that answer.
You’re also going to have to upload the music – so make sure you have a decent connection.
If you can’t finish it in one sitting, there’s a “save” mechanism so you can return from your oh-so-important thing you have to get done other than protect your music.
After filing your music, you’ll receive an email stating that you began the process of copyrighting your music (this works in court even if someone steals your music before your paperwork is approved), and by all means, be patient. It’s the government, nothing happens quickly. After a couple of weeks have gone by, you will receive your final documents and then your music will be protected. For real.
I hope this has been helpful. Do it because it’s important. Do it because if you ever want to make money from your music, you’ll need to do it at some point. Do it so The Douche Hags don’t make a boatload of money off of your song.