How To Copyright A Song
There are lots of things I’ve heard about how to copyright a song, but I’ve never actually one much research into the whole thing. It seemed like a good time to delve a bit deeper – and the good bit is that it turns out the whole song copyright thing is much easier than I’d been led to believe. I also want to point out that I’ve research this mainly from an Australian point of view, but the good news is that the basics are pretty universal – but if you do have any specific questions then make sure you take to a lawyer!
The big thing to be aware of is that copyright is free and is applied automatically when material is created. What’s that means is that as song as long as it is recorded in some form – lyrics written down or saved as a document, music recorded as an mp3 or loaded into Soundcloud for example – and the work is “original” (as in not copied from another work, or the result of skill or labour of another person), then the work is considered copyright.
Yep, it’s that simple! So on that basis, let’s toss away a couple of nice myths. First up, sending a copy of the work to yourself through the mail has no legal effect al all! At best this could prove that the material existed on a specific date, but it doesn’t create copyright, and doesn’t make you the copyright owner.
Secondly, putting a “copyright notice” on the material – like “© Chuck Smeeton 2013” – does not alter the copyright status or ownership of the material. If what you have done meets the requirements for copyright protection, then it is protected whether or not the copyright notice is used. About the only thing the copyright notice is useful for is letting someone who wants to use your material know who they should contact to get rights! I’ll still put a copyright notice on my stuff, but at least now I know it’s an exercise in vanity rather than legal protection!
Finally, registering your work with the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) does not create copyright or change the status of it. Registering your songs with APRA will allow them to collect license fees for the public performances of the material – and is still a good idea, just not one that changes the copyright position.
You also need to remember that songs are normally made up of both a musical piece and a literary piece, and that they can have separate copyright owners. And taking this even further, a sound recording can also have a separate copyright! This is where getting proper legal advice becomes really important.
Another point worth remembering is that if you are in a band you should all discuss how the copyright will work. Some bands just split everything equally, while others are quite definite around who wrote the words and who wrote the music. Just remember that you should really work out what position you are going to take before you start work on originals or you could end up with some very messy legal battles.
In Australia you can get more information from the Australian Copyright Council – in their FAQ section under M for Music – there are several useful PDFs that can assist in answering your queries, and as I’ve said a couple of times, you really should talk to a proper lawyer if you want specific information.