The future of music

How to Copyright a Song in 5 Simple Steps

June 19, 2023
how to copyright a song

Copyrighting your music is one of the most important things you can do at the beginning of your music career.

Protecting your songs will give you independence and freedom, and it will allow you to distribute your music in all formats.

Moreover, copyrighting your music will allow you to earn money from royalties.

So in today’s post, we’ll take you through all the essential steps on how to copyright a song. 

And don’t worry – it’s not as nearly as complicated as it may seem.

How Does Copyrighting Work?

Before diving into specific steps on how to copyright your music, let’s clarify what copyrighting actually means.

Generally, copyright refers to the legal right of the owner of intellectual property.

That being said, securing copyright for your music is essential if you want to protect your music from theft and plagiarism.

This will also give you the right to make and sell copies, distribute those copies, and make new works. 

Finally, copyrighting your songs will give you the right to perform them live. 

A man Playing Guitar

There are two types of copyright-protected works every musician should understand: 

  • A musical work – this refers to composition and lyrics, normally created by a songwriter or composer 
  • A sound recording – refers to a series of sounds fixed in a recorded medium, usually created by a producer or performer

Regardless of what type of music you produce, protecting your music in a proper way is crucial. 

This way, you’ll avoid copyright disputes and any other unnecessary situations regarding the usage of your music. 

It’s an important step for sure – and it’s not so complex at all. 

So, how does copyright actually work?

In the UK

Copyrighting music in the UK entails producing a physical form of your music – even if you just write it down on a piece of paper – and creating a record of the date of creation.

So in the UK, you automatically get copyright protection when you create something original.

In other words, there’s no official way to copyright your music – you’re the owner of your music, as soon as your songs become tangible. 

In the USA 

Things get a little more complicated in the US.

Copyrighting music in the US involves registering your songs with the US Copyright Office (USCO) – all songs must be registered with USCO, and this includes song lyrics and completed works such as songs, jingles, symphonic pieces, and incidental music. 

Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in the middle of a copyright dispute. 

But if you do, registering your music with USCO will allow you to protect your music and take anyone who stole your music to court. 

And if you register it before that happens, you can get granted a payout. 

How to Copyright a Song – 5 Easy Steps 

Depending on where you live, copyrighting music can seem like a daunting process, but it’s actually not so difficult.

You just need to be familiar with all the necessary steps. 

1. Make a physical copy

Before being able to copyright your music in any way, you need to make a physical copy of your song.

You can write down your song or make a recording – it’s important that your music becomes tangible in any material form.

Laptop and Disc

In the UK, as soon as your song starts existing in any format, a form of copyright protection starts existing as well.

Things are a bit more complex in the US, but it’s nothing US artists can’t complete in a few simple steps.

In any case, producing your music and making it tangible and ‘real’ is the first step towards copyrighting it. 

2. Create a time-stamped copy

Another important step in copyrighting a song is creating evidence of the time of the song’s creation.

In case of any copyright disputes, in order to prove the originality of your song, you’ll have to provide a time-stamped copy.

This is the only way to give evidence that you didn’t copy anything or that someone else copied it.

Now, there are several ways you can approach this.

The easiest way is to upload a digital recording of your song to a platform such as YouTube, Spotify, or SoundCloud since online platforms show the exact date and time of the upload. 

Alternatively, you can deposit a copy of the song to a music lawyer or attorney and get a dated receipt of the deposit.

There’s another way of creating evidence of the time you made a physical copy of your music, but it’s a bit outdated.

In fact, this method (known as ‘poor man’s copyright’) can still work in the UK, but it’s not an option for US artists – it entails mailing yourself a copy of your work and storing it in a secure place. 

Since US artists need to copyright their music through legal processes, using registered dating by the postal service simply doesn’t work in this case.

3. Fill out the forms

Depending on your country’s copyright laws, you’ll probably have to fill out some forms.

For instance, US artists need to register their music with USCO, and that requires filling out two important forms: 

  • Form PA (Performing Arts) – to claim the copyright for the composition or underlying musical work
  • Form SR (Sound Recording) – to claim the copyright for a sound recording or recorded performance

So, every piece of music entails the publishing copyright and the master copyright, and if you’re the owner of both copyrights (you own the composition as well as the sound recording), you just need to fill out the SR form.

When registering with USCO, there’s a filing fee you should be aware of – but it’s a rather small one.

Plus, you can submit multiple songs under one application, which can save you some money.

4. Determine how you’ll split the royalties

One of the reasons musicians want to copyright their music early on is the revenue from music royalties.

Music royalties are the payments generated from the usage of songs.

So, whenever your song gets played or streamed, you will generate money.

As a recording artist, you’ll earn money from mechanical royalties – this includes physical sales of CDs, digital streaming (Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, etc), and downloads of your tracks.

There are other types of royalties you should explore as well, including public performance royalties, sync royalties, and digital performance royalties. 

A jar and coins

How much you’re going to earn from music royalties depends on several factors.

For example, if you’re a solo artist, you own all the copyright, and you’ll be able to collect your royalties and keep 100% of the profit. 

But if you’re in a band or you wrote a song in collaboration with another songwriter, you’ll have to think about the way you’ll split the profit. 

The best way to approach this is to go through the necessary paperwork and make sure the copyright and the profit are fairly distributed.

5. Collect your royalties 

Once you go through the whole process, you can enjoy the benefits of copyrighting your music.

As a legal owner of your music, you can perform it, record it, distribute it… You can do whatever you want.

But you’ll also be able to collect your royalties and earn money whenever your song is streamed, downloaded, or bought physically.

So generally, the process of collecting music royalties includes:

  • Creating and distributing music
  • Your music being played or performed
  • Royalties being collected and shared amongst rights holders

It’s a straightforward process, but how much you’ll earn depends on your specific situation – whether you’re a solo artist, have a record deal, and so on.

If you’re an independent artist, you can sign up with the music collection society or reach out to a music publishing platform. 

But there are many things to think about when it comes to music royalties, and everything can seem a bit overwhelming for new artists, especially when it comes to performance royalties, sync licensing, and so on. 

If you want to ensure you get paid fairly, you should also join a Performance Royalty Organization.

PROs are responsible for collecting royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers, and they act as an intermediary between right holders and those who wish to use their work.

They can also help you manage the rights and licensing of your work.

You just need to choose a PRO that meets your needs. 

How to Copyright a Song – Final Thoughts 

If you’ve just entered the music industry, learning how to copyright music and collect royalties can be a bit overwhelming.

But the music copyrighting process is not so complex – the most important thing is to make a physical copy of your music and create evidence of the time of its creation.

Depending on where you live, you’ll probably have to fill out some forms as well, and that’s how you’ll officially become an owner of your music.

And then you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits of owning your music – perform it live, distribute it, and generate money through music royalties. 

You may also like: Best Music Sync Licensing Companies

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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