One of the best aspects of being an independent musician is having ownership of your music. While world renowned singers like Taylor Swift have to re-record all their songs to reclaim them from major labels, independent artists have full control over their music, how it’s used and distributed. What’s more, as an indie musician you can get money from copyright royalty payouts when others use your music.
Wherever you are in music career, copyrighting your songs gives you exclusive rights to distribute your music in physical and digital formats, perform your music live and create derivative works (samples, remixes and such) based on you music.
But how to do you exactly go about copyrighting? Let’s take you through the process step by step.
Step 1: Make a Physical Copy of Your Music
Since you can’t copyright a tune or lyrics that exist only in your head, you need to make a physical copy – write your song down or record it. You are free to choose any method of fixing your music into existence as long as it’s some sort of a tangible format.
By international law, you automatically own the copyright to your song as soon as you create it. This is a free kind of copyright that doesn’t require any action from your side except making a physical evidence that you’ve made the song.
Step 2: Timestamp Your Copy
Copyright is a time-related issue. Creating a timely evidence for your case is important to prove the originality and authorship of your work in any potential disputes in court. In case some other musicians create very similar lyrics or melodies, you can provide your timestamped copy as an evidence that you’ve created the work first and therefore are its rightful owner.
In order to get such evidence you need to simply upload an audio recording of your music, sheet music and/or lyrics to an online platform (YouTube, Soundcloud, Facebook, etc.) or send the files to yourself via email. The date and time are displayed on the platforms and in the email.
Step 3: Register Your Copyright
Registration gives you the ultimate leverage to make money off your music catalog. With its help, you also have an upper hand in any copyright dispute or infringement lawsuit.
It’s recommended to register your copyright shortly after or before your music is released. The process, fees cost and other specifics may vary from country to country; in this article we only focus on the copyright registration in the USA.
In order to legally register a copyright for your music in the USA, you need to visit the US Copyright Office (USCO) site. File the PA form to apply for copyrighting your song’s composition and the SR form for the sound recording of your song. If you’re the sole owner of both the composition and sound recording, you only need to fill out the SR form.
There’s a small filing fee for registering your songs via USCO, you can find out more information on the associated costs here. The good news is that you can copyright a number of songs in one application – perfect for an EP or album release.
That’s it! Now music you’ve created, your intellectual property, is safe and sound. And if someone steals or copies it, the law is on your side.