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Should you “officially” copyright your music?

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In our second video about music copyrights and royalties, Disc Makers’ CEO Tony van Veen talks about registering your song for copyright. Should you do it?

Today I am answering a question I get repeatedly from independent artists: “Should I officially copyright my songs?”

Once again, let me start by saying I’m not a lawyer, I’ve just been around music rights for long enough to be dangerous. So my first advice to you is, if you ever find yourself in a thorny music rights situation, don’t take advice from a CEO in a YouTube video. Seek advice from an experienced attorney.

That said, here are some answers to common questions I’ve received:

When is my work protected?

According to the US Copyright office, your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. That means, as soon as you have recorded your song in some form – in writing, in tablature, an audio recording, a video recording — your copyright is established.

Do I have to pay to copyright my songs with the US Copyright office?

No. In general, registration is voluntary. As you just read, copyright exists from the moment the work is created. The trick, of course, is to potentially PROVE your ownership and the date you created your songs in order to license them or, God forbid, should you need to go to court to bring or defend yourself against an infringement suit.

Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?

Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Some choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Another reason is that registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. In fact, in March 2019, the US Supreme Court mandated copyright registration before any legal rights can be enforced. Then, in November 2019, Congress passed a bill, the CASE Act, to create a copyright small claims court. In order for a creator to be able to file a lawsuit, they must have officially registered their copyrights.

How do I register, and what does it cost?

The direct way to register your copyright is through the US Copyright Office. The standard filing fee for electronic registration, as of June 2020, is $65 for basic claims. However, the filing fee is $45 if you register one work, not made for hire, and you are the only author and claimant.

The copyright office’s site is somewhat technical and onerous, so Disc Makers has partnered with a firm called Cosynd to make the process much easier and more intuitive. There is a modest additional fee per application, but I’d argue the convenience and simplicity it provides is worth it.

Do I need to register and pay for each song separately?

If you are registering a number of songs with the same writers, contributors, and/or arrangers, under the Copyright Act, you can register up to 10 songs on the same application as a “group of works.”

Check out the entire “Copyrights & Royalties” video series and more at Disc Makers’ YouTube channel.

Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers, Merchly, and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.

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4 thoughts on “Should you “officially” copyright your music?

  1. Everything has changed, so you have to get updated with Copyrights Office. The maximum number of songs to copyright at any one time is 10 songs, and the fees have changed.

  2. I love this series. You must remember that it is EXTREMELY expensive to litigate a copyright infringement. If you’re an independent artist, the chances of winning in court are roughly zero, even with a legitimate copyright. You’ll be buried in legal tactics. Copyright attorneys charge roughly $350 an hour.

    Do the math.

    Thanks to the internet, if you post a song on (for example) YouTube, and six months later a song that sounds exactly like it comes out by a major artist, you can use that notoriety to get attention to your claim, as opposed to say, 1980, when it was all done in court. However, if you post a song and a week later a song that sounds exactly like it comes out, well, sorry my friend. That just coincidence. I’ve actually heard people say that – “I wrote this song, and I posted it, and the next week Adele released a song that had the EXACT same chorus”. Um, no. Adele probably recorded that song last year, and never heard your tune.

  3. “Somewhat technical and onerous” should be “somewhat technical and extremely onerous”.

    In March of 2014, I paid $35 to register 12 songs on my CD,
    In March of 2018, I paid $55 to register 14 songs on my CD.
    Are you saying that the fee is now $65 but the number of song is limited to 10? What happens when you have 15 songs on a CD?

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