Do you really need to copyright your music? 

What happens if you don't copyright your music?

These are questions I had about my music, so I decided to reach out to an intellectual property and patent lawyer, Adam Woodward, to get the answers. 

Here is is what he told me.

You do not need to copyright your music, as you technically already own the copyright upon the creation of your work; however, this does not actually protect your work. If you want to be able to prevent others from stealing your music, then you need to register your copyright with the government.

Disclaimer: Before diving deeper into this issue, I just want to state that I am not a legal adviser, although I am sharing information that I learned from speaking directly with a lawyer. If you have any questions about what is legal you should consult with a lawyer yourself.

What Is A Copyright?

A copyright is what it sounds like: the right to make copies. 

But this extends across multiple mediums beyond just CD's or MP3's.

Copyright covers:

  • Derivative works: A new work that is heavily based on a previous work, such as a remix, or sampling
  • Reproducing a work: The right to create copies of a song, whether those be on CD's, Vinyl records, cassette tapes, etc.
  • Distribution of a work: The right to be able to sell music.
  • Right to perform publicly: The right to play/perform music for the public.

Is My Music Automatically Copyrighted?

When your work/expression is fixed in a tangible medium, then you own the copyright. 

In other words, if you have written your song an exists in:

  • A hard drive
  • Flash memory
  • Piece of paper
  • CD/DVD
  • Anything tangible

Then it is a work that you can own the copyright to. 

This means once you've created your song, you own the right to copy, perform, and distribute that song. 

However, if you don't register your copyright with the government, you will be limited in how you can protect your music. 

Is It Necessary To Copyright A Song?

Like I mentioned above, it's not necessary to copyright your music. 

Simply by creating it you own the copyright. 

What Happens If You Don't Copyright Your Music?

If you don't register your copyright, however, you won't actually be able to stop anyone from stealing your music. 

"When you register [your copyright], you gain the right to sue someone for infringement. If you find someone who is copying or ripping off your work, you can't sue them until you've registered."

- Adam Woodward - Intellectual Property and Patent Lawyer

Should You Copyright Your Music?

So long as no one tries to steal your music, then there is really no downside to not registering the copyright for your music. 

But if you don't register your copyright, and someone does steal your music...

Well then you're in a bad place because your options are limited. 

That said, there are other potential ways to go about proving you are the original creator of a work that don't involve registering your copyright, but I'll cover that next. 

However, if you are releasing music that is yours...

You wrote it and performed it (meaning, it's not a beat you bought or are leasing), and you are publicly releasing your music...

Then yes, it's a good idea to copyright your music.

How To Copyright A Song For Free

You can't technically register a copyright for free, but there is a legal "hack" you can employ to prove that you created a song first. 

This involves placing your song in an envelope, whether that's on a CD or something else that is tangible, sealing it, and then mailing it to yourself.

By doing this, your envelope will get an official government stamp, and so long as you don't open that envelope, you can prove the date of its creation. 

I've seen a lot of people online saying that this strategy is a myth, and yet, I received this tip directly from an intellectual property lawyer, so do that that what you will. 

"I recommend registering your copyrights. It's not very expensive, but failing that, make sure you have a very official and formal way of establishing the date. Mailing an addressed envelope to yourself is a good way of getting an official government stamp."

- Adam Woodward - Intellectual Property and Patent Lawyer

Now, I don't know about you, but I think if you're willing to do all of that, you're better off just registering your song with the U.S. government. 

How Much Does It Cost To Copyright A Song

So you're thinking of actually registering your work, but you're wondering how much it's going to cost...

For registering the copyright of one work, the fee is $45. If you're submitting multiple works, such as an album of music, then the fee is $65. 

You can learn more about the fees associated with registering your copyright here.

This can really add up quickly if you're releasing singles, so it might be a good idea to wait to register your copyright after you've released a bunch of singles, and then you combine these into one album that you copyright in one go. 

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How To Register Your Copyright

Alright, now how do you actually go about copyrighting your music? 

To do this in the U.S., you would simply go to the Library of Congress' website, Copyright.gov, and follow the online steps to register your music. 

Here is the link to the website. 

Will A Copyright Keep People From Stealing Your Music?

Sadly, no. 

If someone wants to steal you'r music, they're going to do it.

That said, if you have registered your copyright, you now have options, and you can take legal action against someone who as infringed on your rights.  

Copyright Myths

Poor Man's Copyright

Again, it's been said that you can't mail yourself a copy of your music and never open it in order to protect your music. 

Yet, I got this tip directly from a lawyer, so it does hold some legal weight. 

That said, it is as good as registering your copyright with the government? No. 

But if for some reason you aren't going to register your copyright, this strategy does give you some protection. 

If I copyright my artist name then all of my music is copyrighted too

Not true. 

In fact, you can't actually copyright your artist name, as protecting that falls under the legal category of trade and service marks. 

To protect your brand, and your stage name, you would want to get a trademark for your name and any logos you might have. 

If you are going to be performing live, then you'd also want to get a servicemark. 

Regardless, doing this in no way protects your music. 

If I Register My Music With A pro It Is Copyrighted

This is not the case. Performance Rights Organizations just keep track of when and where your music is being played, and they collect royalties for you while taking a small percentage for themselves. 

This does not protect your music. 

If you want your music protect, then go to Copyright.gov and register your copyright with the United States copyright office. 

Conclusion

If you want to rest easy and know that your music is protected, then go to Copyright.gov to register your copyright for your music. 

This is especially important if you are serious about growing a fanbase, and getting your music heard. 

By the way, if you want help with this, then grab my free Fan-Building Formula guide below. 

This will teach you a proven system for getting more fans, fast. 

grow music fanbase

Get More Fans Fast!

Click below to download my free Fan-Building Formula, which will give you the 7 steps you need to master in order to create "Superfans" and make a living from your music.

I hope you got value from this post on if you should copyright your music. 

If so, feel free to share, and let me know in the comments below...

What other questions do you have about growing a music career online?

Reagan Ramm


Hi! I'm Reagan, and I've been writing, recording, and mixing music since 2011, and got a degree in audio engineering in 2019 from Unity Gain Recording Institute. I also work full-time in Digital Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and am striving to help fellow musicians and producers improve their art and make a living doing the work they love.

- Reagan Ramm


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Career, copyright, legal


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