Song Copyright
and the Copyright Owner

Song copyright can be explained like this: As soon as you write a song and either record it or write it down on paper, you own the rights to that song and are therefore the copyright owner.

This means that you are protected by law, even if you have not registered these rights with the Copyright Office.

As the copyright owner, you have exclusive rights to this song, and are the only one who can exercise these rights or give others the authority to exercise them.

These rights, or some of them, can be transferred to a music publisher, if you sign a publishing contract. In this case, the publisher becomes a copyright owner as well.

Music copyright law gives the copyright owner the exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce the work.
    Having the right to reproduce the work means you can make as many copies as you like, in whatever form you like; CD, cassette, sheet music etc...
  • Distribute copies of the work.
    The right to distribute copies of the work refers to delivering it to the public.
  • Perform the work publicly.
    The copyright owner has the right to perform the work for the public. This could be in the form of a live show, radio airplay, TV show etc...
  • Create a derivative work.
    Creating a derivative work means to take an existing song and change certain elements to make a new song, like Weird Al Yankovic does.
  • Display the work publicly.
    Publicly displaying the work would perhaps be in the form of sheet music.

Again, you don't have to copyright your song to be granted these rights.

They are yours as soon as you have your song fixed in a tangible form.

Actually, the odds of someone stealing your songs are pretty slim.

It doesn't happen as often as you might think.

Yet, the reason for registering songs with the Copyright Office is so you'll be protected should your rights ever be infringed upon.

If you're ever called upon to defend your ownership, you have the documents to prove it.

The form you need to copyright songs is Form PA (performing arts works).

Visit the US Copyright Office for more info and to download forms.

For further reading on the ins and outs of music publishing and song copyright, check out Making Music Make Money iconby Eric Beall.

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