November 28, 2012

How to Copyright a Song, Lyrics, and Music

...how to copyright a song, lyrics, and/or music. It's important to recognize at the outset that those are three different things. A song is made up of both the underlying music or notes, along with the lyrics, that allow a song to be played. A song is essentially a sound recording that includes all of those elements. Whereas, music is put together by a composer. Whereas, lyrics are put together by a lyricist.

Welcome to Copyright Law Radio. We bring you the best in copyright news, legal advice and information.  From copyright infringement claims and defenses to threat letter issues, DMCA takedown notice letters, copyright licensing, and legal analysis of the latest copyright law cases, we have a copyright attorney who can answer your copyright questions.

This is attorney Brian Hall, with Traverse Legal PLC. Today, I will be talking about copyright law. In particular, I will be talking about how to copyright a song, lyrics, and/or music. It's important to recognize at the outset that those are three different things. A song is made up of both the underlying music or notes, along with the lyrics, that allow a song to be played. A song is essentially a sound recording that includes all of those elements. Whereas, music is put together by a composer. Whereas, lyrics are put together by a lyricist. Often times, clients come to me and say, "I need to copyright my song." My response is always that it's not that simple. I need to understand more about what is made up of that song. In particular, who the author of each of those individual components of the song are. The reason that's critically important is because it dictates which copyright form needs to be submitted to the US Copyright Office.

For example, if you're solely looking to protect the song itself, meaning the sound recording, you can use that particular form. However, if you're looking to protect not only the song, but the underlying lyrics and/or music, then you may be best served filing on the performing arts form. Regardless, determining and identifying each author of each of those components will help dictate whether you can file one form, more than one form, and who you must identify as an author, regardless of who's claiming copyright ownership. Obviously, the music industry is very adept to this kind of filing and has a broader understanding of it. However, those that are just getting into the industry may not know entirely. Moreover, those that help put together a song may not know that they have rights. When an issue arises, and someone believes that their copyright has been infringed, again, the analysis as to whether or not you have a copyright in the music, a copyright in the lyrics, and/or a copyright in the song, is absolutely critical.

If you talk to any copyright attorney or copyright lawyer, they should be able to walk you through these nuances, as it relates to how to copyright a song. At the end of the day, it's always important to consider copyrighting these and filing for registration as soon as possible. Now, we all know that there's something out there known as common law copyright. That is created the minute that the particular work is affixed in some tangible medium. As it relates to a song, once it's recorded, then common law copyright would be created. Lyrics, once it's written down on a piece of paper, common law copyrights would be recorded. Music, once the composer puts it down on paper, for example, common law copyrights would be created. However, pursuing a registered copyright allows the copyright owner to do many additional things. Most important of which is get jurisdiction in a federal court, so as to be able to sue an infringer, in the event of copyright infringement. There's also additional benefits as it relates to statutory damages, presumptions, things along those lines.

As a copyright attorney, I always advise clients, especially given the relatively inexpensive nature of pursuing a copyright registration, that copyright registrations are critically important. Ultimately, when you're considering how to copyright a song, or copyright music, or copyright lyrics, you should speak with a copyright attorney that can help guide you through, not only identification of the proper authorship, but also identification of the proper form to be submitting to the copyright office, and finally help guide you through the entire process. Once again, this has been Brian Hall answering your question: How to copyright a song, music, or lyrics.

You’ve been listening to Copyright Law Radio, where copyright infringement, licensing, litigation, and news are always the topic of the day.  Whether you are a copyright attorney or a client, we are the number one resource for all your copyright questions.

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