by Scott Ashley
It’s always nice to get credit for your work — and maybe even a paycheck! When you’re ready to officially claim your musical creations in the eyes of the law, it’s time to think about copyrighting your songs.
A copyright signifies the ownership of intellectual property by an individual or group of people. This property can be anything from a piece of artwork or written story to poems and songs. Once you copyright a song, it’s officially your property, and nobody else can use it without your permission, or at least paying you royalties for the usage. Here are six steps to help you copyright your songs online.
1. Be prepared
Copyrighting intellectual work is a process. And before you start any type of process, it’s important to be prepared. You wouldn’t sit down to write a song without at least first getting your instrument and a piece of paper! It’ll make everything go much smoother.
Here’s a list of what you’ll need to copyright your songs:
Song info – Songwriters, artist, album, and any other applicable information
Split sheets for each song – An agreement that identifies each producer and songwriter, along with stating each contributor’s ownership percentage of the song
MP3 files – Mixed and ready for upload
Lyrics for each song – All the words to your songs, if any
Once you have everything on the list, you’re ready to start the copyrighting process.
2. Visit the U.S. copywrite website
All copyrights in the U.S. are processed and maintained by the federal government. The easiest way to submit your work for copyright is to visit the government website at copyright.gov and follow these steps:
Click the Registration tab at the top of the page
In the dropdown menu, choose Register Your Work: Registration Portal
Read through the notices to make sure you have everything you need
Click the blue Log in to the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System button
This will take you to the eCO portal, which will allow you to complete the copyright submission process.
3. Create an account
If this is your first time copyrighting a song, you’ll have to create an account. Click on the “New User” option and fill in your personal information. It’ll ask you for the following:
Country (if not from the U.S.)
Preferred contact method
You can use the login credentials you created to log back into your account if you ever want to check where your songs are in the copyrighting process or if you want to copyright more work in the future. Be sure to write down your login information and put it somewhere you can find it.
4. Begin a new copyright registration
Using your new credentials, log into the eCO portal and click Register New Claim on the left side of the page. If you’re registering multiple songs, check No on the box that says, “I am registering one work.”
Please note: An album can be considered a single work. The copyright will protect the arrangement of the songs on the album as a whole, including the order the songs appear. Just make sure you have all the author, producer, and artist info for each song, if there are multiple on the album.
Next, you’ll need to tell the copyright office a bit about your work. Click the Type of Work dropdown and choose whichever option applies. For songwriters, you’ll typically want either Sound Recordings for a full recording of a song(s) or Performing Arts if you want to register only the underlying work like a musical composition or song lyrics.
With the type of work chosen, go ahead and click New. You can then start filling out the prompts, including any co-writers, published date, etc. This is where it comes in handy to have everything ready before you start the process!
In some cases, an artist or band might have agreed to an exclusive recording agreement with a label and might have to license their rights in the music and lyrics to the label so they can record the masters. In this case, the label would own the master recordings of the songs based on the recording agreement. But if the artist or band records their own songs and pays for the masters out of their pocket, the artist or band would then be the sole author of the sound recording and the underlying musical works.
It can be tricky to understand the ownership of copyrighted songs, but it’s essential to get it right. If you are working with a label, make sure you fully understand your agreement before copyrighting your work. If you have any questions, the copyright.gov website has a great FAQ section that answers many of the most common questions artists have about the copyrighting process.
5. Pay any fees (BEFORE uploading)
Just like everything else in life, you will have to pay a fee to copyright your work. The fee to copyright one work is $45. If you want to submit multiple works, you’ll have to pay $65. Payment can be made right through the copyright.gov website with a credit card, debit card, electronic check, or by setting up a deposit account with the copyright office.
You can learn more about copyrighting fees on the copyright.gov website.
6. Upload your work
The time has finally come! You’re ready to upload your work and officially submit it for copyright. You can upload as many songs as you want (as long as you paid the correct fees), but there is a limit of about 135 files with a size limit of around 128kbps each. In some cases, you might need to recompress your songs to make the files smaller.
Once all the applicable files have been uploaded, you can click the Upload Complete button, and you’re done!
It will typically take a few months for the copyright office to review your information and complete the process. The effective date of your copyright will begin on the date the copyright office received and accepted all your information, the filing fees, and the downloaded files.
Congratulations! You’re the proud owner (or co-owner) of a copyrighted song! You now officially own your work in the eyes of the government.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Ashley is a songwriter and graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a voting member of the Recording Academy (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences). He is currently working as the Artist Relations director with the USA Songwriting Competition and IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards). His book "How to Write Better Songs" hit #1 on the Amazon Best Seller Books Charts last year. Click here to purchase Scott Ashley's book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B5PLFGKX
For information on the 28th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net