Getting Copyright Protection is Easier Than You Think

How to get it done in the United States, step by step

By: Deeann D. Mathews 14 Dec | 2016


Okay, so how hard is it to copyright your music? I know so many musicians who know that theft of music is REAL, and their worst #nightmare is hearing their own song played (badly) by someone else who is getting RICH on messing up their music! I have been with musicians who were heartbroken and hindered when their music was stolen... those experiences are what caused me to begin looking into and writing about the music business!

So, how do you get a copyright? How hard is it? How much does it cost? How long does it take? Relax... at least if you are creating music in the United States, it's not nearly as hard as you think.

First of all, when you create your song, you have automatically created copyright for it. If you have a song, you already have the copyright for it. Read it again. If you wrote the song, either on a electronic device or on a napkin, you already have the copyright for it.

But now the question is, how do you protect it? Fortunately, U.S. law also provides you a way to do that: register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Do you have 30 minutes to an hour? And at least $55? That's all you need to register one, two, or a dozen songs – and it is cheaper by the dozen – for the maximum of copyright protection the United States can provide! Let's look at the steps:

  1. Go to This is the website for the U.S. Copyright Office.

  2. Go to the box that says, “Register a Copyright,” and click on it. This will bring you to a page marked “eCO Registration System,” and you will see another button marked “Log In to eCO.”

  3. Choose your own adventure – if you want to fill out paper forms and mail in a copy of your song as a piece of sheet music or on CD, this same web page has PDF paper forms to fill out (Form PA for sheet music, Form SR for sound recordings). Or, click on “Log In to eCO,” and you'll be taken to the portal for the Electronic Copyright Office, which will prompt you to set up an account. If you go the digital route, when you begin your registration, you'll need to choose between Form PA (sheet music) and Form SR (sound recording). Either way, you will either mail in printed music, recordings on CD, files on a flash drive, or upload your files directly on the site)

  4. If you go digital, the first thing the Electronic Copyright Office is going to ask you is if you are registering a single work (a single song) or a collection, and if what you're registering has just one creator (you) or more than one. If your work is a single song created by you, the registration will cost you $45. If your work has more than one author, or you are registering a collection of songs, the registration will cost you $55. Money saving tip: the U.S. Copyright Office doesn't really care whether you have two or two hundred songs in your collection; the registration costs the same, so it is cheaper to register collections of songs than to register them one by one. Keep that in mind whether you go paper or digital.

  5. Whether you do paper or digital, there are questions, questions, questions – they all basically revolve around who you are, what country you are from, and who owns parts in your song. Don't panic; if you don't understand something, go back to the Electronic Copyright Office page and check out the “Recommended Reading” section.

  6. Okay, you've got the entire form filled out. If you have paper, write out the appropriate check and mail in the form, the check, and copies of your music. If you went the digital route, proceed through the payment portal, pay by credit card or electronic bank debit, and decide: do you want to print a mailing slip and mail your music in, or do you want to upload PDFs or sound recordings to the site? Once you've gotten your music in the mail or uploaded, that's it – you have now obtained copyright protection for your music!

  7. Now, if you are not in the U.S., get on your favorite search engine and find out who handles copyright registration in your country of origin. At least in the English-speaking countries, the laws and procedures are roughly the similar. In Appendix B of The Freedom Guide for Music Creators, you'll find my coverage of the procedures of major English-speaking countries.

Thirty minutes to an hour, and between $45 and $55 – that's how long it will take you to protect your music through the power of the copyright you already have! In my next post I will talk about how you legally use the music of others.

Deeann D. Mathews is composer, songwriter, and music #teacher living in San Francisco, California, and also the author of The Freedom Guide for Music CreatorsClick the link and get her book on Amazon!


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