Music Copyright law and information






The question I am most frequently asked is whether a band has to send their material to the Copyright Office in Washington D.C. to keep other people from stealing their ideas. The short answer is no. As soon as you write down your lyrics or record your music (even on your portable cassette recorder), you have a copyright and no one can steal it. From the instant your material is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" it is copyrighted and protected. By sending your tape to the Copyright Office, you are registering your copyright. So, if you hum a song in your head-no copyright; but, the minute you write it down or record-copyright. Once you put your ideas into tangible form, you have all the copyright you need to prevent someone from stealing your material.

What you do need to be concerned about is to being able to prove when you created the musical work. If someone does steal your material, you have to prove that you thought it up first. The most popular way to date your work is what is known as the poor man's copyright. This involves sending a copy of your tape or lyrics through the mail (certified return receipt requested) to yourself. When you receive the package in the mail, do not open it; save it in its unopened condition. What this does is put a date on the recording which would be the day you mailed it. If you had to go to court, you could give the unopened tape to the judge and prove when you created the work. This procedure, however, does not afford any legal protection. I never recommend this route to bands.

As soon as you have a copyright, you can use the copyright notice which is written "©". You do not have to register with the Copyright Office in order to use this symbol. Whenever you write your songs down or record them, always include your name or the band's name and the copyright notice. This puts the world on notice that you are claiming a copyright in the material. Since March, 1989, it has no longer been necessary to place the © sign before a copyright notice. Under prior law, if you did not place the magical © sign on your work, you lost protection. Even though it is no longer required, there are reasons why you would still want to use the © sign. First, there are other countries where the © sign is still required. You would not want to loose your protection in these countries. More importantly, it helps prospective users locate the copyright owner in order to secure the appropriate licenses.

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