Copyrighting Your Songs

By: David J. Spangenberg

© 1984-2016 David J. Spangenberg

The majority of people are honest and law-abiding, but there is a nasty minority who will steal anything that isn't nailed down, and find a crowbar for the things that are. After putting all that hard work into writing your song, I recommend that you play it safe, protecting your song in every possible way.

The first precaution: never show your songs to anyone without having "the Copyright Notice" on it. The most often used form of Copyright Notice contains:

1. the symbol ©
2. the year you registered the song, and
3. the owner's name. Examples:

For a Songwriter:

© 2016 Robert K. Smith

Or, for more than 1 owner…

© 2014 Robert K. Smith and Jennifer S. Fields

For a Publisher:

© 2016 Poochstuff Publishing

Or…© 2016 Poochstuff Publishing and…

Note: If you have 10 owners, list them all!

Type or write this "notice" on every word-sheet, lead sheet, tape, CD, etc., you hand out. It makes people think twice before attempting to steal it, and offers some legal protection if they do.

You may legally use this notice as soon as the song is finished being "affixed to something tangible", that is, you can see it or hear it. Contrary to popular belief, the song is actually considered "Copyrighted" right at that point, even before registering it with the "Library of Congress"!

However you should also "Register it" in Washington, D.C. One reason is, if for some reason you have to prove your ownership in court, you'll have a recorded date and Copyright Number. A second reason is, songs are often Copyrighted twice or more, first by the Songwriter, and then by a Music Publisher, etc... That Publisher will give you an "Assignment of Copyright" form to fill out where you must include your copyright registration number. If you never registered it, you can't produce the number...

If you're on the Web, and you should be if you want to keep up with what's happening in the Biz, the Copyright Office Website's Web Address is:

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Copyright Office now has available On-Line Registration, which they recommend you use! You can upload songs and pay right on the site [it temporarily takes you away to another government site - but you end up back on the copyright site after you pay.] The price for registering electronically is $55.The main advantages are it's cheaper than mailing, and you'll receive the registrations back way faster. Also, when you first go on it will ask you to fill out a username, password "sheet", so that...

1. You can save them at any step and come back to the one[s] you're working on at another time.

2. When you are finished one, save it as a template, so you don't have to start from scratch the next time...

To protect the Song, choose "Performing Arts" in the drop down menu when 1st filling out the form.

To protect the Recording, choose "Sound Recording".

Note: You'll notice on all recordings: [P] 2014 UMG, or [P] 2014 Columbia Records, for example. This [P] does NOT stand for "Published…" - it stands for "Sound Recording" ownership. They own the Recorded Production. For both Published and Unpublished Songs, you will see the © symbol.

You may save money by registering several songs at once, and calling them a "Collection." That is, one "form" covering several songs, instead of only one song per form. The price is then $65 [$35 electronically] Copyrighting as a collection may sound like a good idea, but it may cause problems later on. A possible hazard is that you may decide to give one song from a collection to one Publisher and another to someone else - but both songs have the same registration number!

What I usually recommend to people, that they register the SONG Copyrights separately ["Performing Arts"]. UNLESS, it's something like Thrash or Rap. Now the RECORDING Copyrights, ["Sound Recording"] you can do as a Collection. Like it says above, you risk the situation where someone or some Company wants 1 Song or Recording - and the Registration Number is the same with the other Songs and/or Recordings...

Some people believe it is simpler and cheaper, and offers sufficient protection, to mail a finished copy of the song to themselves using the postmark date as evidence of date of authorship, and leaving the envelope unopened until proof is required in the event of a legal contest. Others may use different methods, but no method other than proper registration can be counted on when you need real proof of ownership - that Registration Number. Why take chances?

A couple other important pieces of information you should keep in mind:

1. You cannot copyright the title of a song, the name of a Group, short phrases, etc. [You "Register/Trademark" them].

2. Whoever's name is listed on the Copyright Form under "Copyright Claimant" is the Owner of the song and basically has the right to do with the song as they please, or as described in the "Songwriter's Agreement"

If you have any further questions, you may email me at, or you may call the Copyright Office at [202] 707-3000. You will find the people very helpful.




Author's note:
You are welcome to post this article on any website, ezine,
or in any print magazine, if you include a link directed to
with writer's credit and copyright notice...


"Our aim is to help guide you, protect you,
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No matter what style of Music, no matter what you do,
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David J. Spangenberg
["Professor Pooch"]

Music Business Consultant,
Educator & Advisor
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