Q&A: Should I Copyright My Songs?

My Song Coach

Here are three copyright questions I get asked a lot…

Q: Should all my songs be copyrighted?

A: Before you start pitching your song to publishers, film & TV music supervisors or music libraries, before you enter it in a contest, or otherwise spread it around the industry, I definitely recommend copyrighting your songs or lyrics with the Library of Congress.

You’ll find a printable form, FAQ, and helpful instructions at the Copyright Office website. There’s a fee for each form you file BUT you can register groups of lyrics or songs on a single form. Do that!

It’s cheaper to use the e-filing service than the mail-in forms. Just click on “Electronic Copyright office” at http://www.copyright.gov/ and follow the instructions.

Q: What about the “Poor Man’s Copyright” – sending the song to myself via registered mail? I’ve heard that’s just as good as a copyright.

A: Every attorney I have asked about this has said that sending your song to yourself in a registered letter is not going to help you if you have to go to court to enforce your copyright claim. This is the important thing to remember. Sending the song to yourself via registered mail doesn’t have the legal weight of a filing with the Copyright Office. If someone steals your song, legally there’s nothing you can do.

Q: If I rewrite my song do I need to register it again?

A: If you rewrite an entire verse lyric or change the chorus melody substantially and you have already copyrighted the song as an unpublished work, you can wait until you have a finished recording that’s going to be sold to the public and register the work as a published work. The changes will be protected under this filing.

Remember, if you paid for the sound recording of the song and you own it, then you can copyright the sound recording and the song at the same time as long as both copyrights are being claimed by the same person or persons. If you’ve made changes to the song, these will be protected.

by Robin Frederick

Robin's Songwriting BooksThis post is based on my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. Each book includes over one hundred useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to write songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Reprints by permission.

Author: Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick is the author of Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. She has written and produced more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records and Executive Producer of 60 albums. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com and www.MySongCoach.com.