How to Copyright a Song

Oct 30

In the digital age, where music is easily accessible and shared, protecting your creative work has never been more crucial. As an artist, understanding the ins and outs of music copyright is essential to safeguard your intellectual property, earn royalties, and avoid potential legal disputes. So, how can you ensure your music is protected under copyright law? Look no further, as this comprehensive guide on “how to copyright a song” will walk you through the process step by step.

From understanding the different types of music copyright to registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, this guide on how to copyright a song will provide the essential information every musician needs. With the right knowledge and proactive measures, you can secure your creative work and focus on what truly matters – your passion for music.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand music copyright and its two types of ownership.

  • Register your song with the US Copyright Office to obtain legal protection.

  • Take proactive measures such as joining royalty collection organizations to protect your music from infringement.

Understanding Music Copyright

A sound recording studio with a microphone and headphones

When you explore the realm of music copyright, you should acknowledge the existence of two different types: composition and sound recording copyright. Comprehending these types and their ownership aspects plays a significant role in maneuvering through the intricate world of music royalties and providing sufficient protection for your work.

The authors of the composition, the publisher, and the licensing parties are all involved in the ownership and royalty collection of their own music. To copyright a song and obtain copyright protection in the US, the US Copyright Office (USCO) requires the registration of songs and music through the copyright registration process. Understanding music copyright law helps secure a copyright for your music, letting you control its dissemination and usage, while also opening avenues for royalty earnings from third-party usage, as facilitated by the Music Modernization Act.

Failure to register your music, including unpublished works, with the USCO may result in an inability to pursue legal action against any individual who has infringed upon or misused your music.

Composition Copyright

Composition copyright focuses on protecting the musical arrangement and is held by songwriters, lyricists, and composers. Music publishers manage these rights, ensuring that creators are fairly compensated for their work. Aspects such as the melody, harmony, and lyrics are all covered under composition copyright.

Copyright protection for compositions commences upon the recording, notation, or documentation of music or lyrics in a tangible form. Hence, creators must record their work in a tangible medium to guarantee their compositions’ protection under copyright law.

Sound Recording Copyright

In contrast to composition copyright, sound recording copyright covers the actual recording of the music and is held by performing artists and record labels. The master copyright refers to the copyright of the specific sound recording, which these parties typically hold.

According to the Copyright Act, copyright protection for master recordings begins when “a sound recording is fixed”. This means that the sounds must be recorded in a format that can be sounded, reproduced, or communicated. Musicians must comprehend this differentiation between composition and sound recording copyright since it has a direct effect on ownership, administration, and the distribution of revenue from sound recordings.

Automatic Copyright Protection and Its Limitations

A person using a laptop to protect their music with copyright protection software

Even though copyright protection automatically kicks in as music gets recorded in a tangible medium, solely depending on automatic copyright won’t suffice. Depending on the jurisdiction, it may be necessary to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office (or the relevant authority in the applicable country) to acquire complete copyright protections.

Registering your music copyright offers several benefits:

  • It adds an extra layer of protection during a copyright dispute

  • It grants you the ability to enforce your copyright in a federal court

  • It helps protect your work from potential infringement

With automatic copyright, you may be leaving your work vulnerable, so registration is highly recommended to ensure your music is adequately protected.

Registering Your Song with the U.S. Copyright Office

A person filling out a copyright registration form for their song, learning how to copyright a song with the U.S. Copyright Office.

To register your song with the U.S. Copyright Office, you’ll need to follow a step-by-step process, which includes:

  1. Creating an account

  2. Completing the application

  3. Paying the filing fee

  4. Submitting your work

This procedure guarantees the protection of your music under copyright law and empowers you with the requisite rights to enforce your copyright should an infringement occur.

Creating an Account

To begin the registration process, head to the U.S. Copyright Office website and create an account by logging into the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System. This account will serve as your gateway to copyright registration and protection for your music.

Completing the Application

Once you have an account, you can proceed with completing the application form. You’ll need to fill out forms for both composition and sound recording copyrights. It’s possible to file a registration that includes both the composition and sound recording under a single form if the authors or owners are identical for both.

Be thorough and accurate when completing the application, as this information will become part of the public record and may be used in the event of a copyright claim. The United States Copyright Office offers a variety of registration options suited to different purposes, so be sure to select the one that best fits your needs.

Paying the Filing Fee

After completing the application, you will need to pay the filing fee. The fee varies depending on the type of work being registered and the method of application. Registering a single song with the US copyright office requires an $85 fee. If you’re registering up to 20 songs, the fee remains the same.

Keep in mind that investing in the proper registration of your music is an essential step in protecting your creative work and potential revenue streams.

Submitting Your Work

Finally, you’ll need to submit a deposit copy of your work to the U.S. Copyright Office. This can be done in the form of sheet music or an audio file in specific formats, such as. AIFF, .AU, AVI, .FLAC, .MP3, .MP4, .WAV, and . WMA.

Completing this process guarantees your music’s protection under copyright law and secures your rights to enforce your copyright should there be an infringement.

If you want to understand something more about audio file formats, have a look at this post Is MP3 Better than WAV? A Comprehensive Comparison

Exclusive Rights Held by Copyright Owners

A person holding a document with exclusive rights to their music

As a copyright owner, you are granted exclusive rights that allow you to control how your music is used and distributed. These rights include:

  • The ability to reproduce your music in all formats

  • The ability to create derivative works or samples based on your music

  • The ability to perform your music live

  • The right to distribute your music in all formats

  • The right to have your music performed publicly, either live or through radio and digital platforms.

Grasping and utilizing these exclusive rights is pivotal for musicians, enabling you to safeguard your creative output and generate income from your music. Registering your copyright and joining royalty collection organizations will help ensure that you receive all the benefits that come with owning your music copyrights.

Earning Royalties from Your Music

A person receiving a royalty check for their music

There are various ways to earn royalties from your music, such as mechanical and performance royalties. By gaining knowledge about these revenue streams and actively partaking in royalty collection, you could boost your income and secure fair compensation for your creative output.

Mechanical Royalties

Mechanical royalties are earned through the reproduction and distribution of your music via CDs, vinyl, or streaming services. These royalties are generated whenever a musical composition is reproduced, either in physical or digital form.

Organizations like the Harry Fox Agency collect mechanical royalties on behalf of music publishers and songwriters. By registering your music and collaborating with suitable collection agencies, you can secure the mechanical royalties you rightfully deserve.

Performance Royalties

Performance royalties are earned when your music is performed publicly, either live or through radio and digital platforms. Performance Rights Organizations (PROs), such as BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC in the US, administer public performance royalties and ensure that you are compensated for any public performances of your music. In my experience, I've found PPL, an organization based in the UK, to be my preferred choice for such royalties.

Joining a PRO and registering your music allows you to:

  • Make sure that you receive performance royalties whenever your music is aired on radio, TV, or broadcast on digital streaming platforms

  • Earn income from your music

  • Protect your creative work

This is an essential aspect of being a musician 🔥.

Collaborative Works and Copyright

A group of people collaborating on a musical work

Collaborative work in music can be an exciting and fruitful endeavor. However, it’s crucial to have written agreements in place to establish ownership, administration, and revenue splits among contributors. One common document used in the music industry is a split sheet, which outlines the ownership and revenue distribution among all contributors for a completed song.

Making sure that all collaborators have a clear grasp of their rights and responsibilities can help preempt future disputes and ascertain that everyone receives just compensation for their contributions. Don’t underestimate the importance of having written agreements in place for collaborative works – they form the foundation of a successful partnership in the music industry.

Protecting Your Music from Infringement

A person filing an infringement lawsuit in a federal court

In the digital era, protecting your music from infringement is more important than ever. As a musician, you must take proactive measures to ensure that your work is safeguarded from unauthorized use or replication.

Obtaining copyright registration and enlisting with royalty collection organizations are advised measures for protecting your music from infringement. By following these guidelines, you can focus on your creative endeavors, knowing that your music is well-protected and that you have the necessary rights to enforce your copyright in case of infringement.

Debunking the Poor Man's Copyright Myth

A person throwing away a physical copy of a poor man's copyright

You may have heard of the “poor man’s copyright” – the idea that sending a copy of your work to yourself in a sealed, dated envelope or package constitutes sufficient copyright protection. Unfortunately, this method is not a legally recognized form of copyright protection in the US.

For genuine protection of your music, it’s advised to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office or the relevant authority in your country. Don’t fall for the “poor man’s copyright” myth – invest the time and effort to register your work properly and ensure that your creative endeavors are fully protected.

Navigating International Copyright Laws

A person researching international copyright laws

International copyright laws can be complex, with variations in protection and enforcement across countries. While there is no singular international copyright law, a framework is established by international treaties that member countries must adhere to and implement in their national laws.

Comprehending the nuances of international copyright laws and the disparities between countries is important for the global protection of your music. By familiarizing yourself with these variations and seeking professional guidance if necessary, you can navigate the global music landscape with confidence, knowing that your creative work is safeguarded.


In conclusion, understanding and properly registering your music copyright is essential for protecting your creative work and ensuring that you receive the royalties you rightfully deserve. From the different types of music copyright to navigating international copyright laws, this comprehensive guide has provided you with the necessary information to safeguard your intellectual property and maximize your revenue streams.

Now that you are armed with the knowledge and tools to protect your music, it’s time to take action. Register your copyright, join collection agencies, and continue to create and share your music with the world – knowing that your creative work is well-protected and that you can focus on what truly matters: your passion for music.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Legally Copyright a Song?

You can easily copyright a song by writing it down on paper or recording it. Applying for registration with the U.S. Copyright Office requires an application, a filing fee, and a copy of the work. It takes six or more months to process a song's copyright.

Can I Copyright a Song for Free?

Your song is copyrighted the moment it is written down or recorded, so yes, you can copyright a song for free. All you have to do is write your original song down on paper or record it, and you own the copyright. Your copyright is free and automatic, but the song must be “fixed” in some way, like a written down copy or a recording.

How do I Copyright a Song?

To copyright a song, you should make a physical copy and file the right forms (USCO) with the US Copyright Office, including a completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee, and deposit copies of the work. Once the registration is completed, you can start earning money from copyright royalties.

What is an Example of a Copyright in Music?

A copyright in music is a form of protection that exists from the moment an original work is “fixed” in a tangible medium. For example, Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" is an example of a copyrighted song consisting of the lyrics and underlying music.

How Much Does it Cost to Copyright Song Lyrics?

It costs between $35 - $85 to copyright song lyrics, depending on whether you file online or via paper, plus an additional fee for each work registered. Be sure to check the US Copyright Office website for up-to-date filing fees.
go to top how to copyright a songhow to copyright a song free audio compression course
About the Author

Max Porcelli

Steinberg Certified Trainer, DJ, and Producer with 29 years of experience. He owns 989 Records, an Electronic Music Label based in Italy. Every Saturday he hosts an exciting Radio Show called 989 Records Radio Show on air on Patchouli Deep Radio, London. 
Write your awesome label here.

Bootstrap your Career in Music Production

how to copyright a song free samples download
Created with