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Copyrighting Your Songs

Copyrighting... you know, that thing you know you should do but looks too complicated. Here’s a quick FAQ of the process (in layman’s terms) to get you inspired and realize it’s really not that bad.

Why should I go through all this work? While your songs are technically copyrighted as soon as you write them, copyrighting with the library of congress gives you legal backing if you ever need to go to court. For only $45 per album, it’s worth it to make sure no one can steal your music. A majority of the time you will never need a reason to go legal on anyone, but just in case you hear your song on the Top 40 and you’re not getting any royalty checks, you’ll have a backup plan.

What forms should I look at? The two forms you will need to know about for copyrighting music is Form PA and Form SR. Form PA (performing arts) is for copyrighting the song(s). What you mail in can be recorded at home, recorded professionally or just written on paper. Form SR (sound recording) is for copyrighting the recording itself (be it an original or a cover with permission) and can also be used for copyrighting the song authorship. In these cases, you will mail in a professional recording.

Now, what form do I want to turn in? If you have written songs but not recorded them professionally, you will want Form PA. If you have a professional recording that you want to copyright, use Form SR. And if you have a professional recording of your original songs, you can use Form SR to cover both the sound recording and the song authorship so you do not have to use Form PA at all.

What form can my music be in? If sending in Form PA, your music can be in any form; CD, cassette, sheet music, vinyl, etc. Nothing has to be professionally done, as long as everything is legible and/or audible, it’s fine. If you are using Form SR, the music must be recorded (CD, vinyl, cassette, DAT, etc.), and most likely will be professionally done. In either case, you can turn in a lyric sheet if you would like, but it is not necessary.

Where do I get these fabulous forms? Check out the copyright website at www.copyright.gov. There you can download any and all forms you want, find current fees (currently $30 for PA and SR), and find a bunch more detailed information (such as how to copyright your sighting of Elvis). You can also check out our links page; there are links to the Library of Congress website as well as links directly to Forms SR and PA.

I have the form in front of me, now what do I write where? First off, if in any of these sections you need more space, don’t hesitate to use another sheet of paper.

1. Title: Write your album title here (or some other name for you collection of songs). Under Alternate Titles, write the titles of the individual songs. Under “Nature of this work” write what it is you are copyrighting (e.g. music, song lyrics, pantomime, etc.).

2. Name of Author: Write your full name(s), year born and country of citizenship. “Work for hire” will be checked “no” unless there is a written agreement that authorship was a work for hire. Under anonymous or pseudonymous, check the appropriate box, and under “Nature of authorship” write what the author did for the songs (e.g. music, lyrics, arrangements, sound recording, co-author words, etc). On Form SR, make sure to include at least one author credited to the sound recording.

3. Creation: Write the year the song or album was finished. If you do not have your songs published, leave the publication space blank. If your work is published fill in the appropriate info.

4. Copyright Claimant(s): Fill in the name(s) and address(es) of the author(s). If you are transferring the rights to someone else, explain why (e.g. written contract, by inheritance, etc.). When using a different name for the claimant, like a band name, under transfer say something like “John and Jane Doe doing business as The Does”.

5. Previous Registration: Leave this blank unless you have already copyrighted this work.

6. Derivative Work or Compilation: Leave this blank unless the songs you are copyrighting have been previously copyrighted. If you are copyrighting a compilation, leave 6a blank and in 6b write “compilation of sound recordings.” If doing, say a remix of a song, fill in a and in 6b write something like “remixed from multitrack sound sources.”

7. a-Deposit Account: This is if you have an account with the copyright office. If not, send in $45 and leave this blank.

b-Correspondence: Give your address and any info; they will need to contact you if there are any questions.

8. Certification: Sign here in blood...I mean black ink.

9. Return Address: Your official certificate will be mailed to you at the address you provide, so make it legible.

After filling everything out, write a $45 check or money order payable to “Register of Copyrights” and mail the check, the form and the CD to the address at the bottom right of the 2nd page. Allow 4-14 months for delivery of your very own certificate saying you did indeed write these songs.

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