Why and How to Copyright Your Original Music

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As music creators, one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and our careers is to protect our intellectual property. Every time you write a song, create a melody or instrumental track, you have made an original piece of material that is at risk of being infringed upon. Even though by technical standards a work is copyrighted once it has been made into a tangible form, that often isn’t enough to spare artists the time, money, and heartbreak that comes with having your work stolen without your knowledge, consent, and most of all, compensation.

The best strategy to fight this is to do your due diligence and officially register your work by submitting it to the US Library of Congress. This is the only surefire way to ensure you have the necessary legal protection against another artist or business entity trying to infringe upon your creations.

There have been countless lawsuits over the years of musicians going after major label artists in an attempt to retain proper ownership of their musical works. But going up against a multimillion-dollar corporation is next to impossible if you don’t have the proper legal standing that proves your ownership of a composition of music. Because even if you have basic personal records that are timestamped, a big-wig artist and their reps will just bleed you dry financially taking you in and out of court until you can no longer afford to fight.

The sooner you are able to empower yourself with knowledge and protect yourself, the better.

So that’s the “why;” let’s look at the “how” — how you can take the next step to protect yourself and your musical offspring! As with most government-run websites, there’s a bit of a learning curve to work through the dated “AOL dial-up” era design and aesthetic, but I assure you that you can do it!

With a little help from the step-by-step guide below, you’ll be on your way to registering your own music copyrights and ensuring you’re in good, professional legal shape with your songwriting from this point forward.

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Step 1: Prepare your materials.

First, you’ll want to compile all of your related music materials in clean and clear formats. Have your song info, split sheets, MP3s, lyrics, and any other important documents readily available and organized.

Step 2: Create your online account.

Next, you’ll need to create an account with the official US copyright website at copyright.gov. Fill out the required contact info and get familiar with the submission platform. There are plenty of tools available on your dashboard to help you understand the “language” used for submissions and process involved if you’re interested in learning every detail, too.

Step 3: Fill out the online form for your first copyright submission.

Make sure you set aside some quiet time to work through all of these forms carefully. The eCo site will bring you through several pages of questions in order to file your copyright, starting with the “Copyright Registration” section along the left-side menu bar. For most cases, you’ll want to focus your attention on “Register a Work,” and click on “Standard Application.”

After that, the following page will help confirm that you’ve chosen the correct application to fill out, followed by a series of yes/no questions indicating whether or not your work qualifies for the standard application process. Then, you’ll select your type of work, and enter titles, publication status, author info, claimant info, rights and permissions, correspondence contact, and mailing address. Finally, it’s time to certify and review your application!

Step 4: Make your payment.

This next step will take you to a separate website to collect your payment. Payments are accepted in the form of either credit card or ACH. The cost is currently $55 per song registration through the standard song recording app. Though it might seem like a bit much at first, remember that wouldn’t even buy you an hour of time getting advice from a lawyer if you had to go to court over a copyright infringement violation. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Step 5: Submit your supplemental materials.

Once payment has been confirmed, it’s time to send in your song materials. Accepted file formats are clearly listed, so just make sure to follow the directions! Upload electronic copies of your work to this page, and make sure to wait until everything has loaded completely and successfully before you refresh or click through to the last step, otherwise you risk having to do it all over again.

Step 6: Receive your digital and hard-copy confirmations.

Once you submit everything online, you’ll receive immediate confirmation of the receipt of your files and payment. Then you can typically expect the hard copies to come in the mail within the next six months or so. But remember that copyright protection is in effect instantly, as of your online submission acceptance, so there’s no need to worry about the wait!

And that’s all folks! It’s simple enough, and the process goes faster and faster each time, as you get more familiar with it. For any other questions regarding online copyright submissions, you can find a helpful FAQ page from the eCO Help Desk here. Good luck and keep going, empowered to write more (protected) musical masterpieces!

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