How To Copyright Your Music


Last Updated Jun 18, 2022

Do you want to know how to copyright your music or beats?

Welcome to the ever so interesting topic of copyright…I bet you can’t wait to get started reading long paragraphs of legalize and legal procedure.
Don’t worry, I am not going to bore you with that. I dealt with that in in my Copyright class in school so you don’t have to…but I’m not going to tell you that I barely passed.

The Basics

There are a few basic and terms we need to understand before we dive a little deeper into understanding copyright and how to get your copyright registered. There are two copyrights we generally have to worry about in music. Those two are the composition and the sound recording copyrights.

Composition Copyright – This is the copyright for the actual music with or without lyrics that was created by the composer/songwriter.

Sound Recording Copyright – This is the recording of a performance of a song or composition done by an “artist”

Let me give an example to explain the differences between both. Let’s go with Bob Dylan because he is a very successful songwriter and a lot of “artists” have recorded his songs.

When you think of the song “All Along the Watch Tower”, who do you think of? Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan? Well, the right answer is that you should think of both of them. The person that wrote the song and composed it is Bob Dylan. He is the owner of the composition copyright because..well, he wrote the darn song.

And the owner of the Sound Recording Copyright is Jimi Hendrix, right? No, generally, the Sound Recording Copyright actually belongs to the Recording Company. Then the recording company gives royalties to the “artist”, Jimi Hendrix. He cased might be a little overly complicated actually…for many reasons, but let’s get back to you.

You wrote a song and recorded it yourself. It sounds great and you are super excited. What is even better is that you own both the Composition and Sound Recording Copyright. Unless you have signed with a record label or signed a publishing deal…..

It is legally copyrighted the moment your music is down on a “fixed” medium as it states in the law. This could be a cassette, audio file on your computer, or written out in notation (for composition copyright).

But this copyright needs to be registered with the government to be protected.

Is This Copyrighted?

There are some things that are not copyright protected.

It is not protected if,

  • It is a melody or music that is only in your head
  • You played a new song live and don’t have any sheet music or recordings of it
  •  Last night’s jam session

Why do you need to register a copyright of your music?

Filing your copyright with the government is not required, but it has some benefits.

  • You get to have your claim of copyright on public record which will help in any lawsuit
  • You can be rewarded damages for registered works that have been infringed upon.

Basically, it helps you if you think you may have to go to court or if someone steals or your music. You can think of it as an insurance policy.

Modern Example of The Benefits of Registering Your Copyright

There was a recent case involving Marvin Gaye’s song “Got to Give it Up” and Pharrell William’s and Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines”. The later had to pay Marvin Gaye’s family close to $5million in damages and from now on, pay royalties to Gaye’s Estate.

What if, Marvin Gaye’s composition had never been registered? His family would have never been able to take that case to court and get a hefty sum of money.

I’ve heard about a “poor man’s copyright.” What is it?

The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration. This is not registering the copyright of your music.

Separate copyright filings?

Although they are separate works, a musical composition and a sound recording may be registered together on a single application if ownership of the copyrights in both is exactly the same. To register a single claim in both works, give information about the author(s) of both the musical composition and the sound recording.

Can I copyright All My Songs at Once?

No, not anymore. The government recently changed the application process, you can now register 10 unpublished works in a single application using the “Group of Unpublished Works” option.

You can register up to 10 of your unpublished songs at once with this method with a single filing fee. But if you have already published music, as in released an album or EP, that has to be registered separately from your unpublished music using a different form. 

The following method only works if you own both the Sound Recording and Composition. If you are signed to a label and the label owns the masters, you will have to do them separately.

How to Register a Copyright of your Song

Now, for what you have been waiting for, how do you copyright your music?

The easiest and cheapest way to register the copyright of your music is with the US government copyright website.

Warning: This method is for registering UNPUBLISHED works. You will have to use the standard for if you are going to register your album that has already been released. I can post an update that will include how to do that.

Copyright Registration Method

  1. Login or register at the copyright website
  2. On the sidebar click “Register a Group of Unpublished Works”.

3. On this screen, it is asking you to confirm that your material meets the eligibility requirements. Click “Start Registration” after reading and making sure it qualifies.

4. Then check the other appropriate boxes for your case.

5. Start the actual registration.

  1. Type of Work: Select the dropbox menu and choose “Sound Recording”. This will cover the sound recording and composition.
  2. Title: Here you will give the name of each title of your songs
  3. Go through the other prompts
  4. Pay – You will be able to upload the songs after, so don’t worry.
  5. Upload the songs. 
  6. Select “Select Upload Complete”

You are done. So, if the day ever comes when someone stole your song and got millions of streams, you can have a successful day in court.

By Chris

Chris is a mixing engineer and enjoys creating interesting vibrations out of nothing.

The Indie Musician Resources

There are 5 spheres of knowledge and skills that go into making and releasing a song successfully. What do you want to develop?



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