Complete Guide to Music Copyright
Basic Guide to Copyright: How to protect your music as an artist, author, or producer.
As an independent musician, you own your songs and recordings. It's YOUR intellectual property.
This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: YOU control the rights to the songs you write and the recordings you create. That copyright ownership gives you support, protection, and strength to make money from your catalog of works.
In this article, we will take a look at what copyright is, how to register your works, and how to use your copyright as an author or artist to earn money.
What are copyright/author's rights?
It is the intellectual property of a work by a person or a group.
Copyright guarantees certain exclusive rights to the owner, or owners, one of the most important being the right to earn money from that intellectual property. It is the so-called "exploitation" of your rights. We'll talk about it later.
Music copyright designates ownership of a particular song or recording.
If you create a recording yourself, or if you pay for studio time and session fees, you own that phonograph recording. If you work with a label, chances are the label will control the rights to the recording, at least for a set period of time.
If you compose a song, you own that composition. If you write a song together with one or more people, each one owns a part of the song. It is convenient for you and your collaborators to make a document that determines the distribution (the percentages of the song that correspond to each one), and register the rights accordingly. How To Copyright A Song
The two types of copyright
- The composition – consisting of music and lyrics
- The sound recording – which is a specific recorded version of that music and lyrics
The compositions normally belong to the authors and/or publishers. The recordings are usually from artists or record labels.
When do you own your rights?
In strictly technical terms, you own your music rights the moment you capture the composition or recording and fix it on a particular medium. This can be something as simple as writing the lyrics and melody on a piece of paper or humming it into a recorder.
Is the so-called “poor man's copyright” considered proof of authorship?
The “poor man's copyright” is a common but inadvisable method of proving authorship. It consists of a musician sending himself a copy of the composition or recording by certified mail, leaving the sealed envelope with the date clearly marked on the outside.
The idea is that the state does the work of dating the work with the postmark. However, this does not allow you to get the same protection as an official copyright registration.
With that system, you own the rights, but you haven't really registered the work.
Why am I interested in registering my rights?
At this point you may be wondering "if I already own my rights, why should I register my work?"
The main reason is that in the event that someone infringes your copyright by either recording a song you wrote or using a recording of yours without permission, you will have much more power if your work is officially copyrighted. In the USA, you are interested in registering the work with the US Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress.
If you live outside the United States you have to look for the official registration office of your country.
A copyrighted work carries much more weight in court than a sealed envelope, a Soundcloud link, or a beer-soaked napkin. And if you decide to sue for copyright infringement, an official record qualifies you for financial compensation from the infringing party and attorneys' fees. It is simply the best way to prove that you own the rights.
How to register your copyright
If you want to legally register your rights in the United States, you will have to do it directly at the Copyright Office or use Cosynd, a service that manages the procedures for you.
The advantage of Cosynd is that it is much easier than the multiple steps required when you register directly at the Copyright Office. CD Baby partnered with Cosynd and not with other companies that offer similar services due to the easy navigation of its interface, its fast process, and the efficiency and professionalism in every step.
Here is what you need to register your rights with Cosynd:
Copyright of a Composition (Form PA):
- Declaration of distribution of the percentage of rights
- Lyrics and music
Copyright of a recording (Form SR):
- Digital file of your music (you can use physical format if you register directly with the government agency)
For more information on how to register your copyright go here.
If you register your copyright directly, you are interested in having:
- -PA form for a composition
- -SR form for a recording
And if you want to register both, recording and composition? Look below.
If the declarants are the same for the recording and for the composition, you can use a single SR form to register both types of rights.
According to copyright.gov, you can use ONE form (SR) to register the recording AND the composition, as long as the owner is the same for both copyrights:
The SR form must also be used if you wish to make a registration for both the recording and the associated work (musical composition, dramatic or literary text). You can make a single registration only if the claimant of the rights is the same for both the recording and the associated work.
How do I make money with a recording?
When you own the rights to a recording you control the “master rights” and can license that master. Royalties from the transfer of a master license include streaming and download revenue associated with the recording, from platforms such as Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music, Deezer, etc.
You can also give permissions for synchronization and sampling licenses of your recording. (More on these topics below.)
Nationally and internationally you are entitled to royalties when your song is played on the radio. Internationally you are entitled to royalties when your song is played on digital or satellite radio. (This is also expanded on below.)
Finally, as a record owner, you can make physical formats like vinyl and CDs.