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How to Copyright Your Music

How to Copyright Your Music

Music is defined as a pattern of sounds made by musical instruments, voices, or computers, or a combination of these. To register copyright of your music, the music has to be your own original composition. Below are some guidelines on how to register copyright of your music, and further information about music copyright that may be of interest.

How should I copyright my music?

  1. Register copyright of your lyrics (if any) in a written format - register the lyrics to your song in writing. This is very important. If there is only an audio format of your lyrics, the words may not be clear enough for a legal adjudicator to understand if there is a dispute of copyright ownership and legal proceedings ensue.
  2. Register copyright of the musical notation of your composition if available – if you have a written form of your melody it is important to include it in your copyright registration.
  3. Register copyright of any audio or audio-visual formats of your music – register copyright of sound recordings and videos. This will register copyright of the melody element of the song, especially if you have no written musical notation as described in the point above.
  4. Register copyright of your music before publication or performance. Once you have composed your music, it is advisable to register its copyright straight away. By registering copyright of your music before any form of publication (including performing live before an audience) you will have the best chance of proving copyright ownership should a dispute occur.
  5. Register copyright of your music with a copyright registration service. Once you have composed (in written form - see point 1) a piece of music you are automatically copyright owner of your music. The advantage of registering copyright with an independent third-party is that you will have an independent verification of your copyright ownership and the time and date of its registration. This can be used as evidence of your copyright ownership if a dispute occurs. 

Registering copyright of your music with Copyright House not only gives your the security of knowing that your copyright ownership is registered with an independent third-party, but we store a copy of the original work with a notary public. We also offer ongoing customer support including free DMCA notices when needed and the arrangement of affidavits if the dispute goes to court.

Music copyright owner's rights

When you have created a piece of music - written a song or any kind of instrumental piece - you have automatically become the copyright owner of these works.
As a music copyright owner you have the rights to:

  1. Copy the music.
  2. Distribute it.
  3. Perform your music in public.
  4. Lend or rent it to the public.
  5. Have your name on copies of the music.
  6. Change/edit it.
  7. Broadcast your music.

The music and lyrics have to be your own original compositions.

Musical arrangements

When you make an arrangement of someone else's music, it doesn't automatically become your music copyright. The famous song "Let it be" always remains the copyright of Lennon and McCartney, however beautiful and original your arrangement may be.

What exactly do you own?

When you have made a CD you then own copyright of the music, the lyrics, the recordings, the artwork on your CD and the text and images that you have created for your website - should you have one. Although you own copyright of all of the above, you need proof of copyright. The most secure proof is an independent third-party proof of copyright, which Copyright House provides.

The two main forms of music copyright are:

  1. Copyright on the music itself. These are author's rights, publisher's rights or mechanical rights.
  2. Copyright on a recording. These are called phonographic rights, or neighbouring rights.

Copyright Statement

Once you have composed your music, written your songs and put them on a CD, or website, it is advised to mention that the music copyright belongs to you. The copyright statement which you need for your publication would usually have the copyright symbol ©, then the year in which the music has been published and the statement all rights reserved. It could look like:

  1. © artist name, year, all rights reserved
  2. ℗ artist name, year, all rights reserved (the p in a cirle denotes phonographic rights)

There are slightly different forms of copyright statements for different situations, but the statement should be clear about who the copyright owner is.

Agreements between band members

If you are a member of a band and your songs or music are written collaboratively, there will exist a joint ownership of copyright. You may wish to make a written agreement stating who owns which part of the songs or music. This statement should include what happens to the music copyright if one of the members leaves or if the band breaks up. The agreement should ideally be signed in the presence of a legal professional, such as a solicitor.

Proof of Copyright

Apart from registering your copyright with Copyright House, you should always keep copies of demos and proofs of posting of your music to record companies and music publishers.

It is also important to be able to show the natural development of your musical work. For this reason every copyright account comes with a free update service to register your songs, or instrumental works at every stage of development.

The original registered work is not replaced by the updated version, but both versions of the work are registered separately. This all adds to your proof of ownership of the music.

Registering your music with Copyright House

It is important to know that the cda tracks on your CD don't contain your music. To register your music with Copyright House it is best to have it on your computer in formats such as .mp3 or .wav. MP3 files are much smaller in size than .wav files. For this reason it would be best to convert the .wav files to .mp3 before uploading your music in your secure copyright account area.

Points to consider when registering music copyright

  1. All songs in the public domain are no longer protected by copyright and can be used by anyone. For more information see our article on Copyright Duration
  2. Copyrighted material can’t legally be performed or distributed (this includes on YouTube) unless a license (called a Mechanical License) is obtained. Licenses can usually be obtained from royalty collecting agencies such as ASCAP, BMI or PRS.
  3. A venue can obtain a Mechanical License so that performers in a bar, for example, can sing cover versions of copyrighted material. In this case the performer does not need to obtain permission.
  4. Music is “published” when copies or recordings are distributed to the public for sale or rent. A live performance is not publication. Make sure your music is established in a written or audio visual format before a live performance, as the performance itself does not establish your copyright ownership of the music.
  5. Some forms of music, particularly electronic music, may use samples of other people's compositions. It is important to get permission of the copyright holder before publishing any musical work that contains elements of another person's work. You cannot claim copyright of any work that includes someone else's copyrighted work without their prior permission.

Music copyright further readings

More about music copyright, music publishing and public performance can be found at:

  • PRS for Music - PRS is for composers, songwriters, publishers, and music users.
  • The Intellectual Property Office in the UK.
  • The Phonographic Performance Company of Australia.
  • The performing rights organization in the USA.

The information on this page is not a complete guide but should be regarded as a basic overview to enhance your understanding of copyright. This is not legal advice and should not be considered as such. Some information may not be applicable in certain situations.

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