should_you_copyright_your_music

Should You Copyright Your Music? Truths & Myths



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.

should you copyright your music?

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?

Automatic Copyright

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.

Limited Action

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.

Copyright Myths

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. If you would like a step by step guide on how to copyright your music check out this awesome article on Dozmia.

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!

    • Hey Roland, I’m glad this article was a timely one for you. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m wishing you much success with your future release! 🙂

    • Man, cole mize youve been so much help. As ronald said we need as much as we can get. Ur videos taught me when i had no one but myself .

      • Hey Chris, I’m glad that my content has been so helpful to you! That’s what it’s all about right there!! 🙂 Thanks for the love and support and I’m wishing you the best in all that you do! Keep it up!! 🙂

  • Great piece, another well put together informative article. 135 tracks huh, sounds like there’s some work ahead… and I love it! appreciate the info. cole

    • Thanks Sirc, I appreciate it bro! Yeah if you have 135 tracks to submit you are doing some DAMAGE!!! That’s like 10 years worth of albums lol!!! I’m glad you enjoyed this article and thanks for commenting as well! I appreciate the support! 🙂

  • Great layout bro. I would also add that if you do a bulk order copy right, you may get some pushback from the Copy Right office. I tried to copyright my last album as a whole and they wanted me to do each song separate. Plus they wanted release letters features I had on my album, which probably implied they wanted them to do seprate copyrights as well (as they should). So I’m not sure things have changed since then (2013) or If there was a misunderstanding between the agent and myself. I will have to dig into it because the correspondence between me and the Copyright office worker went on for over a year before they dropped the case and took my money.

    • Hey Chris, thanks for reading and for providing insight into the bulk order option of Copyrighting songs. Was you able to fill out individual track information for each song while doing them in bulk? Wow! A year is a long time to try and get something sorted. I’m all ears for any wisdom you may have gained that caused issues from doing it in bulk. Was it due to you having featured artists or other people involved with the production? It sounds like bulk may be best for people who contributed everything to the song? In the end was you still able to use the bulk function or did you have to go back and submit the tracks individually? Thanks bro! 🙂

    • Thanks Kyu, I’m glad that you enjoyed my this article! I think you have some really good beats, I think they could be brought out some more with different mix decisions primarily with the low end kicks and bass having more presence. Try during the volume down on your speakers and while mixing in mono focus on making the mix sound big even at a low volume. I hope this helps and am wishing you the best on your production business 🙂

  • I wish that the copyright conditions in the US is as easy as it is here in the Philippines. But still, thanks Cole 🙂 I’ll do a research on how to copyright music in my country. Thank you again 🙂

    • Thanks Ronniel, I’m glad that you enjoyed this article and sorry it didn’t apply to your country. I hope you are able to figure things out on you end. Keep up the hard work and I’m wishing you the best with all your music! 🙂

  • Thanks Cole…I’ve been wondering about this for a while…I will just copyright each project upon completion of my
    mixtape.

    • My pleasure Jeremy, Thanks for reading and I’m glad that you enjoyed this article and found it helpful! I’m wishing you the best on all your musical pursuits! 🙂

  • Well said and elaborated Cole Mize. I hope one day when I reach there, this knowledge will be of use for I knew nothing about rights of music. Thanks a lot. It is informative..

    • My pleasure Ali, I’m glad that you found this article helpful! That’s what it’s all about! 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting and keep up the hard work!!

  • Hello, Cole Mize. I have question but profiting off your mixtape. I have a project I am working on. Right now my project consists of songs I have written but with free beats. But I am confident that three of my songs will be a hit, if I get them on the radio. My project will be non-profit, but in order to get the songs on the radio I must buy certain rights. Would it be smart to profit off those three songs and not put them on my project because I’m not sure if it makes since to put songs I wanna profit from a free project. What do you think I should do?

    • That’s a good question Kerri. Yeah just to makes things more simple you may want to keep the tracks you want to use commercially off the mixtape and use them to promote your mixtape. Also something to keep in mind is many people these days are buying songs in singles instead of projects since we have iTunes etc.. so I think your concept may work just fine. I hope this helps! Wishing you the best on your project! 🙂 -Cole Mize

  • Dang, I didn’t know copyrighting is so cheap.

    I used to think its not too important, that was until I started getting heisted. This piece is motivating me to just go ahead and get legal help.

    Check out my beats and let me know if its even worth it: http://tlbeats.com

    • I’m glad that you found this article helpful TL. I think your beats are good foundations but could be improved with better mixing, arrangement and sound selection. My best advice would be to reference to other professionally produced and mixed instrumentals and compare their quality to yours. This is called referencing and it’s one of the most practical ways of learning and improving in your craft. Wishing you the best on your musical journey! 🙂 – Cole Mize

  • Man… i may sound too much – but i think you are one of many who are changing the world… with this stuff… so helpfull and so unselfish. Thanks bro.
    Just one question if you know something about it… im from Europe and i should seek to register Copyrights in EU.
    But is this EU Copyright serves in US – and vice-versa?

    • Thanks so much Alexander that truly means a lot bro! That’s a good question man. To be honest I’m not sure how Copyrights work when music is being used in different countries other than the one that issued the initial copyright. I do believe that the copyright is in affect everywhere in the world and you can use different P.R.O’s (performance rights organizations) to track the use of your music in different countries. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful. 🙂 – Cole Mize

  • Question…
    I make beats & I also write / record lyrics
    Do I register the beats separately from the same beats with lyrics? Or in otherwords, am I able to register the beats separately from the same beats with lyrics? If that makes sense? Because once they’re protected I want to post my beats , but I also want to post my beats with the lyrics too

  • There isn’t just a flat fee of $35 dollars for any amount of songs. In fact if you use the Electronic form, and try submitting any number of songs you will get an email informing you that there is an addition $20 fee , for multiple songs. You will be charged more for physically sending songs ($65), as opposed to using the digital E-form. Another point I’d like to bring up is that the form itself is an SR-Form for a sound recording, a fixation of ideas if you will. It doesn’t copyright the music, just the sound recording itself, and melody and lyrics. Chord progressions are not copyrighted, so you can get away with making a sound alike, if there are no words, but it is YOUR original recording. Again music only.

  • Hey Cole! Excellent Post!! I have been doing some research into copyrighting my first set of songs and I think it would be wise to update this article, bro. As of April of this year you can no longer copyright multiple works on the copyright.gov website. You can do up to 10 but there are some stipulations, such as they all must have the same author, and they must all be released together, such as in an album. Not exactly sure of all of the details, but yeah. Just trying to help, man!! PLEASE keep up all the great work, Cole!! You are killing it!

  • My management sent my production data to an unknown person after I released my Ep, then the unknown person made a radio edit of my Ep and then copyrighted it and now we don’t know how to undo things because the radio edit tracks he made, appears also on all platforms and he went as far to license my uploaded videos on YouTube. What can I do?

    • Sue and prove you had your data first. Why and how did your management send it to an unknown person in the first place? Have evidence of this transaction.

  • Great articles! I was wondering how I find my old copy written music in the library of congress? And if I have the stamped pieces of music papers do they keep one in file too? Thanks. Melissa

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