Song Copyright – How Songs and Music Are Protected by Copyright

1. The Copyright Office Does NOT “Copyright” Your Work

Most people misunderstand how copyrighting songs and music really works. For instance, getting a copyright for your music has nothing to do with the copyright office.

Even the Copyright Office explains this in their information booklet, Copyright Basics (page 3):

“The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. No… registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright.”

2. A Copyright Is Automatic:

The truth is that securing a song copyright is an automatic process that occurs the moment someone puts a song or music into physical form. That means when you first write down the words and/or music on paper, or first record them onto a cd, or tape, or digital file.

  • You DON’T need to register it with the Copyright Office.
  • You DON’T need to put a copyright notice anywhere.
  • You automatically — and legally — have your copyright the moment you put the song into physical form, regardless, and with no further action required.

It’s a done deal!

But wait… Here’s where things get a bit trickier…

3. How to Prove Your Automatic Copyright:

Having an automatic copyright isn’t the same as proving you have it!

So the most important thing you can do is to make sure you have a way to prove when you first put your material into physical form. In other words, you need proof of when you got your automatic copyright!

And that’s where registering your copyright comes in.

Registering your copyright means you make a public record of it. And you can do that several different ways: you can register it with the copyright office. Or you can register it with a private registration service. Either way simply makes a public record of your work so you can later prove the date of your song copyright.

4. Don’t Bother With “The Poor Man’s Copyright”:

But the one thing you should not do is rely on “the poor man’s copyright” method to protect yourself. Because, contrary to popular belief, it does not work!

(The poor man’s copyright is when you mail a copy of your songs to yourself [or a friend] and then don’t open the envelope so you can later try using the postmark to prove when you first wrote the material.)

in fact, the poor man’s copyright has never been accepted in a court of law! And the reason is simple: it’s just too easy to tamper with an envelope or postmark. Also, you would have to use yourself or your friends as witnesses and such witnesses are not considered reliable in court because they have an interest in the case!

5. Protecting Your Songs Is Easy:

So always use an independent registration service – either a reputable private firm, such as, or the copyright office – to register your songs.

And one more bit of information… If you ever need to actually sue someone for copyright infringement, and you wrote the song in the U.S., you will need to also file your song with the copyright office before actually filing the lawsuit. But that can be done anytime during the “life” of your copyright (which is the composer’s lifetime plus 70 years), and even after someone has tried stealing your song or registering their own copyright for it!

So if you would like to avoid all the forms and expense of initially registering all your songs with the copyright office, you can first register them with a private registration service.

Then, if anyone ever tries to steal any of your privately registered songs, you have the proof needed to show you had copyright protection before they did! Often, just showing the thief this proof (of your private registration) is enough to stop them. But even if that doesn’t work, you can always file just that one particular song (the one stolen) with the copyright office before filing your lawsuit, and then use the private registration evidence in court.

That way, you save having to register all your material with the copyright office. You can use a less expensive and faster private registration service first, and then wait and see if you ever need to take further action later.

Just always remember to register your songs as soon after you compose them as possible, either with a reputable private registration service or the copyright office!

Better safe than sorry!

(And btw, it’s not “copyright” or “copy write” – it’s copyright…)

And to read other articles about stolen songs and the myth of the poor man’s copyright, click “Article Source” at the end of this article.

Disclaimer: The above information is intended as general information only, not as legal advice or solicitation for legal services, and should not be relied on as such. Please consult with a local attorney in your area for specific legal questions on music copyright law.