What’s does a copyright mean? Should you copyright your music? Will it keep people from stealing your music? Where do you go to copyright your music? Is it expensive? I will answer all of these questions in this article along with addressing some of the myths & misunderstandings floating around out there that muddy the waters about copyrights that I hope to divulge and bring clarity to during this article.
Before I dig in I must state that I am not a legal adviser and that the purpose of this article is to inform others to make better educated decisions for themselves. If you have any questions about what legal course you should take please consult with a lawyer. Now that that’s out of the way let’s dig in!
What’s A Copyright?
A copy right is simply the right to make copies. We’re not just talking about making copies of CD’s or MP3’s. Copyright is somewhat of a blanket statement and covers the following:
- derivative works: new work that is heavily based upon previous work. For example in Hip Hop music this would apply to sampling or reusing others music entirely to make a new song out of it. In 2010 Mac Miller released a song “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza” which used a beat from Lord Finesse’s 1995 single”Hip 2 Da Game”. Lord Finesse sued Mac Miller for $10 million and they settled in January of 2013.
- reproduce: the work in copies or phonorecords. For example making copies of the music using CD’s or cassette tapes “if someone still uses those :)”
- distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other
transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. Basically this gives you the right to lease your music to companies to use in movies, commercialism, video games etc and sell copies of your music or completely sell the rights to the music to a 3rd party by transferring ownership.
- perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and
choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual
works. Which simply means this gives you the right to use your music while performing live on stage or to be used in movies or other visual works. Playing your music on the radio, sporting events etc. can also be considered a performance.
Should You Copyright Your Music?
Is The Music Yours?
First you must ask yourself do you have the right to copyright your music. This may sound like a redundant question but please allow me to explain. I work with a lot of up and coming rappers and it’s common practice for them to lease beats off the internet. If you are writing lyrics to music that you have leased then you don’t own the copyright to the music even though you may have permission to use it. So technically you can’t copyright the music however you can still copyright the lyrics if you wish.
Are You Publicly Releasing Your Music?
If you are releasing your music publicly and it is indeed your music then I would recommend that you copyright it before sharing it with the world. Copyrights are kind of like insurance; you likely won’t have to use it but just in case someone steals your song and makes a million dollars off of it you will be protected and in a position to take legal action.
Will A Copyright Keep People From Steeling Your Music?
It’s been said that locks and contracts are only for honest men. In other words if someone is determined to violate you they will, however it’s wise to take as many preventive measures as possible to protect yourself. So in short a Copyright won’t keep people from steeling your music however it will protect you in the event that you have to take legal action against someone who has infringed upon your rights.
Where Do You Go To Copyright Your Music?
If you are in the United States simply go to copyright.gov For a step by step walk though please check out this article or watch this video if you are outside of the United States please search the internet for the appropriate place for your location.
How Much Does It Cost?
You can upload between 1-135 Mp3’s encoded at 128 kbps for 35 dollars. The price is the same regardless if you’re copyrighting 1 song or 135 so take advantage of copyrighting your music in
bulk as much as possible.
What If I Don’t Copyright My Music?
If you never register a song through the U.S. Copyright Office you still have an original copyright claim to that song. Technically the moment you create something new you have a copyright to it since you are the original creator of it. The only exception to this is if you are recording in someone else’s studio and you signed a contract giving the producer or record label rights to your recordings. However not registering your work with a copyright office causes you to be limited in what legal action you can take against someone who infringes upon your copyright.
For example if someone took a song of yours and uploaded it on YouTube you could file a DMCA digital millennium copyright act claim against them and have the song removed. If the other party who violated your copyright still doesn’t take your song down you can also send them a cease and desist letter.
However if you don’t register your copyright until after someone has infringed upon it you can only sue them for profits and damages but not legal fees. And because legal fees are so high suing someone without the ability to be reimbursed for legal fees is generally not worth it.
However if you feel the third party is making a significant amount of money off your song and you would like to sue them for the profits they’ve made and the damages you’ve suffered along with any legal fees you incur you will have had to of formally registered your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office before the third party violated your rights.
Poor Mans Copyright
Legend has it that if you mail a copy of your music to yourself and never open it you will be protected just as much as if you registered it with the U.S. Copyright Office. This is simply not true and there as been several cases of people trying this method in court and loosing because of it. Copyrights have never been easier and cheaper to obtain so just shell out the $35 bucks and do it legitimately online.
I Copyright My Music Through A PRO
A PRO is a performance rights organization. These are companies such as ASCAP, BMI & SESAC which keep track of when and where your music is being played and they collect your royalties for you and take a small percentage. Some people think that if their music is registered with a PRO then it also takes care of their copyright. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The only place that can legitimately copyright your music in the United States is with the U.S. Copyright Office.
If I Copyright My Artist Name Then All My Music Is Too
Wrong again. In fact you can’t even copyright your artist name. You can obtain a servicemark but not a copyright. Trademarks are for products and business names and logos such as Big Mac and McDonalds. So don’t think that you can just somehow copyright your artist name and then magically everything that you touch is protected; it just doesn’t work that way.
Handle Your Business
So remember locks and contracts are only for honest men so make sure you do your do diligence to protect yourself legitimately by registering your music with the U.S. Copyright Office. To get the most value wait until you have a group of songs to copyright and do them all at one time for a flat fee of $35. Your pockets will thank you for it and you will be able to sleep just a little bit better at night.
How Did I Do?
Did you find this article helpful? Have a question or comment? I’d love to hear from you so make sure you drop your 2 cents in the comments section below!