Many songwriters and composers may wonder why they need to copyright their work if protection is automatic when the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression, like sheet music or audio recording. There are costs involved, not to mention the time. And creating is what you really want to be doing, right? But, there are many benefits to registering your work with the US Copyright Office. First let’s take a minute to look at exactly what copyrights cover.
What is copyright and what does it protect?
Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works (copyright.gov).
So, if my protection is automatic why should I register with the copyright office?
Yes, copyright exists from the moment a work is created in a tangible medium of expression. And registration is not required. However, there are numerous reasons why registering is a good idea. We turn to the unified voice of the copyright community, The Copyright Alliance, for the answer. We encourage you to check out their recent blog post for full details:
- Bringing an Infringement Action – It enables you to file a lawsuit to enforce copyright in federal court.
- Evidence of Validity – This could be important if a copyright infringement case is brought involving the work.
- Statutory Damages and Attorney’s’ Fees – It enables you to claim statutory damages and attorney’s fees.
- Creates a Public Record: It puts others on notice that your work is protected by copyright and that you are the copyright owner.
- Satisfies Deposit Requirements: When a registration application is submitted to the Copyright Office the copies of works submitted with that application usually satisfy the Library’s independent deposit requirements.
But it’s expensive and complicated, I don’t have the time or resources.
Yes, music copyrights are complex. So we turn to our good friend Jonathan Bailey to help explain. He believes once you grasp the notion that there are two separate works that need to be copyrighted it becomes a lot easier to understand. These two works are:
- The Composition (Publishing): This is the part of the song that is written down. It includes the notes on paper, the lyrics, the arrangement and anything else that can be viewed with the eyeballs.
- The Recording (Master): This is the actual sound recording itself. It’s the part that can be contained in the MP3 file. Anything you listen to is considered part of the master.
For musicians, this is very important. If you write and perform a song, you control the copyright on both. However, if you perform a cover you need to get clearance to do it and you will only hold the copyright in your specific recording. Read more here at Plagiarism Today.
The bottom line is if you are able it is always a good idea to register your works with the Copyright Office and there are numerous resources to help.
My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.” CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration, and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.