One of the most important things every music creator can do for themselves is protect their intellectual property. By technical standards, a work is copyrighted once it's been made into a tangible form. However, officially registering that work by submitting it to the US Library of Congress provides very valuable protection should anyone ever infringe upon your creation. The process isn't too bad once you've been exposed to it and have some education in the field. It's simple enough that you can definitely embark on doing it yourself, or if you'd like some assistance to make sure you've done it right the first time (it is a government document, after all), you could always request the assistance of a music business professional or copyright lawyer. But in the meantime, here's a step-by-step guide on the basics of how to copyright a song.
1. Prepare to begin the process
First, you'll want to compile all of your related music materials in clean and clear formats. Have your song info, split sheets, MP3s, lyrics, and any other important documents readily available. Then head on over to the official US copyright website at copyright.gov to get started filling out the basic information to submit your copyright online.
2. Fill out the online form
Make sure you set aside some quiet time to work through all of these forms carefully. The eCo site will bring you through several pages of questions in order to file your copyright. Starting with creating your own account, register a new claim. After that, the next page will help confirm that you've chosen the correct application to fill out, followed by a series of yes/no questions indicating whether or not your work qualifies for the standard application process. Next, you'll select your type of work, and enter titles, publication status, author info, claimant info, rights and permissions, correspondence contact, and mailing address. Finally, it's time to certify and review your application!
3. Make your payment
This next step will take you to a separate website to collect your payment. Payments are accepted in the form of either credit card or ACH. The cost is currently $55 per song registration through the standard song recording app. Though it might seem like a bit much at first glance, remember that wouldn't even buy you an hour of time getting advice from a lawyer if you had to go to court over a copyright infringement violation, so better to be safe than sorry!
4. Submit your supplemental materials
Once payment has been confirmed, it's time to send in your song materials. Accepted file formats are clearly listed, so just make sure to follow the directions! Upload electronic copies of your work here, and make sure to wait until everything has loaded completely and successfully before you click through to the last step.
5. Receive your digital and hard-copy confirmations
Once you send everything in online, you'll receive immediate confirmation of the receipt of your files. Then you can typically expect the hard copies to come in the mail within the next six months or so. But fret not, my friends – you are uber-protected from the moment you submitted your digital files online!
6. Still have more questions?
Learn more about copyrights:
- Copyright Essentials: What Every Band Should Know
- Who Owns That Song? How to Research Copyright Ownership
- 3 of the Most Commonly Misunderstood Music Copyright Laws
Christine Occhino is the founder and artistic director of The Pop Music Academy and has experience working at Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, in addition to working as a performing artist for over a decade. She has a bachelor's degree in music business & management with a concentration in entrepreneurship and vocal performance from Berklee College of Music, where she was a vocal scholarship recipient and former editor-in-chief of The Berklee Groove. She is also the proud founder and CEO of Hope In Harmony, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that brings music to those in need.