How do I Copyright a Song?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Many people want to protect their original property by obtaining a copyright. This is often true in the case of music and original songs, in order to prevent theft or piracy of potentially valuable material. In order to copyright a song, the owner must find the relevant authorities and take all required steps for verification and cataloging. Different regions may require different procedures in order to copyright a song, but generally the process involves filling out paperwork, sending in a copy of the song, and paying a fee.

Making unauthorized copies of music for friends is a form of copyright piracy.
Making unauthorized copies of music for friends is a form of copyright piracy.

In the United States, a person can copyright a song through the Library of Congress. This governmental organization handles all US copyrights, including those for music. Forms are available at the website for the Library of Congress. In Canada, the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada provides the same service, while in the United Kingdom, the service is provided by the Intellectual Property Office. Most countries will have their own branch for dealing with these services.

It is important to note that under common law, the creator of a piece of material has an automatic copyright. The reason to copyright a song through a legal organization is to have a clear and indisputable record that establishes the owner of a property and the date of creation. This can help fight against thieves who try to steal copyrighted material and pass it off as their work, or prevent piracy and illegal use of the material.

Some people will get a “poor man's copyright” by mailing a copy of the song to themselves, having a notary sign and date a sworn statement of ownership, or simply writing down details about the creation of the song and dating them. While these are technically enough to prove a copyright, they do not always hold up in court. Generally, experts recommend going through established channels to copyright a song to avoid any possible dispute.

Most forms required to copyright a song require information about the piece, such as the title, date of completion, and owner information. By signing a copyright request, the submitting party is swearing that the enclosed material is solely his or hers and cannot be claimed by another author. If a person intentionally lies about ownership in order to copyright a song, he or she may be charged with perjury in some regions.

After a request is sent and fees are processed, there is typically a waiting period of one to six months. During this time, the song is generally noted as having an application on file, should the question of ownership arrive. Barring any complications, the owner will receive a confirmation of copyright within a few months. Be aware that copyrights may need to be renewed every few years.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


A lot of people think you have to go through a long and expensive legal process to get a song or a book or whatever copyrighted, but you really don't. If you compose a hit song and it gets recorded by a popular singer, a publishing company will usually handle the legal rights for you. The idea that another songwriter down the hall with his own guitar will copy your song word for word is mostly a myth. Only a handful of songs will even get heard by a music label, anyway.

About the most important thing an official copyright does for a songwriter is establish a date of creation. If someone else composes a song that uses similar chord progressions and lyrics, a songwriter can prove in court that he or she wrote the song first.

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