Remember way back in the day, the only reproduction of music was in the form of sheet music? Back then, the whole rights and property process was simple because the music could only be sold in one tangible form. But later on, Edison invented the phonograph, and eventually a man named Emile Berliner invented audio disks in 1888, which became the shape of recorded sound for the next century. With the advent of recording and audio reproduction, music took on two forms: the sheet music, and the recorded sound.
Music copyright today also exists in two forms: the composition, and the sound recording. Each form can either be owned by the same person or different people – if rights change, the terms of ownership are settled during negotiations and the signing of contracts.
Yes, it is true that the moment you put your ideas down in a tangible form, you own copyright. Whether that means a lead sheet, a little voice memo on your phone, or scribbling some lyrics on a roll of toilet paper, you own copyright. Owning copyright guarantees you six primary rights, that only you are allowed to exploit, and they are as follows:
1.) The right to reproduce the song 2.) The right to distribute the song 3.) The right to publicly perform the song 4.) The right to create derivative works 5.) The right to public display 6.) The right to digital audio transmission
The most important rights for songwriters are the first four. HOWEVER, the only way that these rights are actually protected is if your ideas are registered with the Library of Congress. SO THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
Don’t be intimidated. Just because registration is insanely important doesn’t make it insanely hard. In theory, America likes good ideas, so they have made the process as straightforward as they can, and with the Internet, the process is even easier!
Today, the entire process can be done online through “eCO,” which stands for the Electronic Copyright Office. Just go to www.copyright.gov, and about halfway down the page you’ll see a button that says “Register a Copyright,” (it will take you to a page with another button that asks you to log in). For a cost of $35, you can register your song online. In fact, you can register your entire album for $35, AS LONG AS at least one person has contributed to every song AND the owner(s) of the copyright will be the same.
Here’s what the button looks like on the webpage.
For instance: If you and a friend write a handful of songs, then all those songs can be registered together as a collection. If you wrote one of those songs by yourself, and you want to be the sole owner of the copyright, then that one song needs to be registered separately. If you feature a guest artist on one song, then that song needs to be registered separately, unless that artist signs a contract giving you and your friend ownership of the copyright, like the other songs in your collection. For more examples click here.
Now, although there are two copyrights (the composition and the sound recording), if you own both copyrights, they do not have to be registered separately. The same copyright registration application can be used for both the composition and the sound recording AS LONG AS both of the copyrights for the composition and the sound recording will have the same owner(s). To register only the composition, categorize the song as a Performing Arts Work during registration. To register either the sound recording or both copyrights, you must categorize the song as a Sound Recording.
After that, follow the on-screen instructions, and provided that all the information is correct, in three to five months time, your works should be processed and registered! You can even check your application’s status online. Registration is really just the first step to protecting your music, but it’s surprising how many people forget to do it. What makes you the money, in addition to selling your music on iTunes, are the licensing of these rights and resulting royalty distributions. But more about that in the coming sections. For now, here’s a link to the copyright website.
Written by Jin Park
“ECO Frequently Asked Questions | U.S. Copyright Office.” U.S. Copyright Office. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2014.
Passman, Donald S. All You Need to Know About the Music Business, Eighth Edition. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
“Registering Multiple Copyrights.” Clickandcopyright.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2014.
“The Invention of Vinyl Records – Where It Began.” The Invention of Vinyl Records – Where It Began. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2014.
“U.S. Copyright Office – Help: Type of Work.” U.S. Copyright Office. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2014.