Coypright Tips for Musicians
The information here applies to
International Copyright Treaty Countries (PDF),
unless stated otherwise.
- You have a copyright automatically when you create a work by
committing it to media. (If you just play something and never write
it down or record it, it's not copyrighted.) Even with
this implicit copyright, if someone steals your stuff and you
want to take them to court, they could bury you in legal rigamarole
unless you have deep pockets or good proof. The best proof is
an official copyright registration. It also helps to have witnesses
who will testify that you did indeed create the work, in cases
where two different parties register the same material.
(Collaborators make great witnesses.)
In the US, you need a registration before you can file an
infringement suit. Also, you can only get "statutory damages" and
attorneys' fees if you register prior to the infringement.
"Actual damages" would apply regardless.
- Any citizen of or person publishing material in any of the Treaty
Countries can register their copyright with the US Copyright office.
It costs $30 per application.
- If you publish any copyrighted material in the US, you are required
to submit two copies to the Library of Congress. This is called the
mandatory deposit requirement. Failure to do so can result
in a fine of up to $250 per item. You can meet this requirement
by registering. Alternatively, you can simply send two copies to the
US Library of Congress, no payment required.
I doubt that posting on the web is considered "publishing". My father,
a patent attorney, said that the answer isn't clear; no precedent has
been set so far. However, I doubt the US Library of Congress wants
two copies of everything ever posted on the web!
- You can bundle any number of songs on one CD for registration, but only
if all songs have identical ownership. For example, if I
wrote all the music and Fred wrote all the lyrics, they can all be
registered at once on the same CD (for a single $30 fee). So divide
up your songs into CDs where the ownership is identical for all the
songs on each CD, and submit an application for each CD separately.
Each collection needs a title and be sure each CD is clearly labeled
with its title.
- Register the CD as
Performing Arts(click link for simple official instructions).
This protects the composition (which is the most important
thing to protect). The short form should apply in most cases, just
use that form and read the instructions at the top -- you'll find
out if you need the long form.
Be sure to include two copies to meet mandatory deposit requirements.
No additional form is necessary.
- You can also register the CD as a
Sound Recording(click link for simple official instructions).
This protects the particular performance
or rendering of your song. You can even do this in the same application
(same mailing envelope, same CD -- I think ya still gotta cough up
the extra $30). This is the only protection you can get for
compositions you don't own, such as your recording of Proud Mary.
- If you want to buy the right to publish your rendition of someone
else's composition, you can get a compulsory licence (also called a
"mechanical licence"). The easiest way to do this is through the
Harry Fox agency at songfile.com.
The cost is a $10 fee for Harry plus the legally dictated rate.
The rates go up every few years; right now (2004) it's 8.5 cents
US per song or 1.65 cents per minute, whichever is more. [This
applies to any originals that were published or distributed in the US.]
- If you're serious about your copyrights being honored and getting
royalties for airplay of your music, you need to join a mechanical
licencing group. Find out more at
MusicBizBuzz. Lots of other interesting info about copyright
stuff there, too, for a number of different countries. (Thanks for
the link, Oroboros!)
- What about the ©?
This is no longer required, although it's customary and considered
polite to let people know that the material is not in the public domain.
The customary form was:
Copyright © 2004, John Q. Public, All Rights Reserved.
However, the "All Rights Reserved" no longer has any legal significance,
and is usually omitted. The following is now more popular:
Note: I am not an attorney. This is my careful interpretation of what
I read on the US government website, http://www.copyright.gov.
Don't omit the "www".