Should You Copyright Your Song?

Man vs Row

Brent is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ray Stevens, and more.  He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

Should I copyright my song?

That’s a question I used to ask, and it’s one I’ve heard a lot over the years from other songwriters. Here are my thoughts on it. Hopefully, this will give you some answers, some guidance and some peace. By the way, I am NOT a lawyer, so this is NOT legal advice.  Always check with a legal professional before making big decisions.

What do the pros do?

I used to work in the royalty department of Bluewater Music. We wouldn’t send off a copyright registration until the day a song was commercially released. The last time I checked, it cost $40 to register a work, and it’s just financial suicide for a prolific writer or publisher to invest that much per song. I’ve had years when I’ve written 100 songs – that’s $4,000 just to register the copyrights! Even if you only register the songs you demo and pitch, it’s still not a good use of time and money.

What if somebody steals your song?

First of all, it’s hard to sue and prove plagiarism. You can’t copyright a title, idea or approach. Secondly, you have to prove the “thief” had access to your song. Thirdly, and most importantly, they’d have to make enough money off your song to make it worth your time to take legal action. Basically, it would have to be a hit. And that is VERY hard to do! The odds of that happening is so very slim that it’s a non-issue. Don’t let it stop you from pitching your songs or playing them out.

Do you protect your songs at all?

Yes. I leave a paper trail to prove the date of creation (which is a huge part of proving ownership). But, honestly, this is more to protect ME from someone suing me. I keep a paper calendar where I write my cowrite dates and cowriters. I write on a laptop, but I also copy the lyric into a series of notebooks with the date on each page. Additionally, I keep the Garageband file of each worktape. For songs which are part of a publishing deal, there’s an additional paper trail- assignments, Schedule A, etc.

You own the song the moment you write it down or record it. Registering your song with the copyright office just helps to prove it.

So, that’s me. I don’t copyright a song until it is commercially released (on more than just a small do-it-yourself indie project). But how you handle it is up to you. If it’s worth $40 a pop to help you feel comfortable sharing your top songs with the world, that’s cool. I hope that gives you some answers.

God Bless,

Brent

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19 thoughts on “Should You Copyright Your Song?”

  1. Sent 3 tweets before I saw this avenue…sorry. Not on Twitter very much. As mentioned I am not a JD and have had zero cuts. I send tunes to NSAI and hope. In a way that documents a tune too. But as mentioned I know you can Register more than one song at same time as a ‘collection’ for $40 old way or $35 online. Have fun!

    1. Welcome to MvR, Mark! Yes, I used to do collections of songs one copyright. My understanding is that it doesn’t protect each song as strongly, but I’m not a copyright expert.

      1. Brent:   You da Man.   But I would respectfully suggest that the ‘group’ or collection route protects exactly as strongly.   And because in both cases the copyright office has a copy of the exact song title and the recording or mp3.  And anyone can then go to the Library of Congress and show exactly what was registered when.   Show my mails to an attorney if you like…but I am very sure I am right about this.   

        Take care!

        Mark L. 

        — Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

  2. Thanks for sharing this ! You confirmed what took me years to figure out. You should publish an e-book with the knowledge you have accumulated and experience you have; in addition to your blog. Just my thoughts…~d

  3.  Brent, there are cheaper copyright options. First you can copyright several songs as a catalog for the same price. 10 songs or more for $40. Also, you can register copyright internationally for $25 per song. Good. in U.S. and 160 countries.

  4. Thanks Brent. …I also heard that the money in songs is in publishing…not so much the cost of the song sent to someone else.
    Just a thought.
    I’m writing today…so gotta go.
    Thanks again.
    Rachel

  5. This is a great summary/refresher! Thanks!

    I’ve been considering a private blog to serve as a “hook book”. Other than a minute threat of hackers (I shouldn’t be a big target 🙂 ) it would be 1) time stamped (insert bell ring) , 2) searchable (ding) , 3) taggable(?) and 4) accessible anywhere from an internet browser (Smart Phone, Computer, Tablet, etc). Lord knows everything we put on the web gets backed up and so forth, so almost no chance of losing it once posted.

  6. One can always create a collection of original songs, which needs to be in bound form and register the collection. That way all the songs in the collection are protected. I believe the current fee is $50. It just went up.

  7. Brent…There is a benefit to registration once the composition is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” The author will lose the important tool of having statutory damages as a remedy and attorney fees paid. One must strictly comply with the articulated litmus set forth in the “Act.” I advise every songwriter to take a copyright law course in a reputable music business program to understand the importance of the law in exploiting the copyright. Most songwriters reject the business side of the craft or delegate the administrative aspect to a third party. Law and the art of songwriting are intrisically tied. There is no revenue stream without either.

  8. When I came to Nashville over 25 years ago and the first suggestion I got from a Nashville old-timer was not worry about copyrights, just open my own publishing company and publish all of my songs. Just as good as a copyright. And it’s just as strong as a copyright.

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