How to copyright your music? Everything you should know | LegaMart Articles
Ways to copyright your music

How to copyright your music? Everything you should know

Behind every royalty, streaming payout and sync license, there is a copyright and an exclusive owner of this copyright. You own your music work the moment you record or write it, but you must register your copyright to protect it legally. As an owner, the law protects you from those who can exploit or misuse your work for their benefit.

In this article, the web of copyright for music is untangled to give you clear, straightforward and necessary information about music copyright and its protection.

Copyright refers to the rights of the creator, author, or original copyright owner over their work. It is an intellectual property right that protects the original work against unauthorised or unlawful usage. The work to be copyrightable under this intellectual property must be original and, apart from this, must have some skill, labour or judgement in its creation.

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Music copyright gives producers exclusive rights of ownership, distribution and reproduction of musical works and recordings. There are two types of music copyright; master and composition. Master covers the specific sound recording containing a particular expression of the underlying composition created by the music artist. Composition covers the melodies, notes arrangement, and chords in a specific sequence.

According to the US Copyright Office, once “the sound is captured, which means that the sound must be recorded on a medium that can be sensed, copied or otherwise transmitted.” the master recording is protected by copyright, “in digital tracks, optical discs, tape or another format.”

The music is protected by copyright from the moment it is fixed, and for additional benefits, music can be registered with the US Copyright Office. Registering the music work makes a public record of ownership and gives access to federal courts in the unexpected event of copyright infringement.

Both musical work and sound recording are copyrightable. A musical work is an underlying musical composition of a song along with its lyrics which are usually created by a songwriter or composer. A sound recording is a series of musical, lyrical, or other sounds in a particular recording. Therefore, Lyrics, jingles, incidental music, symphonic pieces, and songs are copyrightable. But song titles, chord progressions and incomplete music can not be copyrighted.

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Every copyright holder has some exclusive rights to enjoy its originality and creativity. These rights designate legal ownership and original authority of the work to its registered holders. US Copyright law provides the following exclusive rights to copyright holders :

● Reproduction of work

Under this right, no one other than the owner may make any copies or reproductions of the work. And because of this, streaming services must opt for music licensing, and creative commons license from copyright owners to reproduce any songs in their catalogues.

● Performance of work

Under this right, the copyright owner can perform the work publicly. This right includes performance on live shows, radio/Tv broadcasts, uploading to youtube audio library, uploading as youtube music, music playing in public, music on listening platforms, a song on a platform like Spotify etc.

● Communication of work

Under this right, work is made available for being seen or heard or otherwise enjoyed by the public. This refers to music publishing and its display to the public.

● Adaptation and translation

Under this, a new form of work is prepared using existing work in the same or different form, like a transcription of music or any act of alteration and rearrangement of an existing musical work.

Copyright exists automatically once the music is created in a tangible embodiment, but steps can be taken to enhance the protections. The most important step is registering the musical work. Keeping your song as free music, royalty-free music, and uncopyrighted music may lead to a risk of its misuse or exploitation. Registering a copyright for your work within three months of its publication or before any infringement can be beneficial and gives weight to the validity of copyrighted work.

Registration procedures

Registration is a way to create a record of the copyright of your work with the US Copyright Office. Upon registration, the office sends a certificate confirming the registration. To register a copyright in the office, the owner has to submit a completed application form, filing fee and copies of the work. Registration can be done online by logging in to the copyright office online system, filling out the form and submitting the payment and copy of the work.

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Applying for copyright registration requires an application, filing fees, and a copy of the work. Also, there are the following ways to get your song registered online based on the type of work you are seeking protection for:

● Standard application

This application can be used to register sound recordings, songs, or musical work.

● Group registration of unpublished works

This application can be used for registering up to ten works together, all by the same author, and the author is the claimant.

● Group registration of works on an album of music

This application can be used for registering up to twenty works together all by the same or having at least one common author and claimant for each work in a group is the same only.

Copyright law has the following rules for copyright music which should be followed:

● Work must be original

The work must be a unique result of the creativity of the owner to make it their original piece.

● Violation must be established in court

If any violation of the owner’s right is encountered due to misuse of copyrighted music and the owner’s permission to fair use, it must be established in court. If the offender is found guilty, he has to compensate the copyright holder.

● Lasts more than a lifetime

Copyright protection lasts for 70 years after the death of the copyright holder, which makes it a lifetime protection.

● Management and administration

The master copyright is managed by a record label, and the music composition copyright is administered by publishers.

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Generally, for works created and published after January 1, 1978, length of copyright extends for 70 years beyond the owner’s life. And if there is more than one owner, the protection usually extends to 70 years from the death of the last living owner.

Copyright is a powerful deterrent from unlawful exploitation of your creations. Understanding its limitations helps you determine the action you need to pursue against exploiters of your original work. Here are the limitations to copyright protection:

● Doctrine of First Sale

This doctrine puts exceptions to the distribution rights of the copyright owner and states that they lose distribution rights on specific mediums once it’s first sold.

● Digital Millennium Copyright Act

This act provides for a notice and takedown procedure where the individual or group of a person having copyright owner provides notice to the online service provider informing about the infringement. The service provider then investigates this and takes down the work if it infringes the original owner’s rights.

● Fair use

This is the most prominent defence in any copyright infringement and can be seen as a transformative use of the copyright holder’s work for the public interest. There should be fair use of copyrighted material.

The cost to get copyright varies depending on what you are registering and how exactly you choose to apply for it. Presently digital registration of a single author and standard application can cost $45 and $65, respectively, and physical application registration can cost $125. These fees are subject to the current schedule of fees.

Registering a copyright for your song can be full of benefits to you. There are various state laws and international treaties that discuss copyright. For copyrighting a song, complete a copyright application, pay the filing fee, and submit the music to the US Copyright Office. This process can be done either online or offline. Once the application is filed, the copyright office will notify you about the status and issue a certificate of successful registration.

It is easy to get misconceptions about copyrighting a song, and you may find it confusing. To avoid this and seamlessly go with the process, professional help is advisable. So to copyright a song, you can consider the above-mentioned process under some expert guidance and support.

When it comes to musical work, writing them out on paper grants instant legal rights to you on its original authorship. If this music comes as public domain music, then anybody may misuse it. There may be a situation that someone sitting in another city, a few times later, writes similar lyrics to your non-copyrighted music. And at this point, it may become difficult for you to prove that you wrote it first, so registering your work is the best way to deal with such situations. Also, international copyright protection on music must be considered. Through copyright registration, you can easily establish your priority as the original first author of the lyrics. 


Awareness about copyrighting your music and copyright laws for the music industry is important in our society, as creativity is a powerful essence of growth. We tried writing down everything you should know about copyright on music. It is important to talk to a copyright lawyer at every stage of your copyright process. This includes professional help for filing copyright, handling copyright infringement, copyright claims and defending your copyright. Legamart has a trusted network for legal aid in all jurisdictions.

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