How to Copyright a Song

In the U.S. a song is automatically protected by copyright law the moment it is created. The creation must be in tangible form in order for the protection to apply. If you have ever committed a lyric to paper or a created simple voice-memo recording, congratulations, you are already the author of a protected work. Learning how to copyright a song with the U.S. copyright office can further protect you in case of infringement. 

If my work is already protected, why register a copyright?

Anytime you post a lyric to the web or add a new song to your SoundCloud account, your work is protected under U.S. Copyright law. So why go the extra step and pay the fee to register the copyright? Registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office increases your ability to prove copyright infringement, should that ever occur. Only those with a filed copyright claim can pursue a copyright infringement case in the Federal court system. It’s interesting to note that the U.S. Copyright Office does not vet incoming copyright claims against those already registered in it’s database. Multiple writers can mistakenly claim 100% authorship of a song with the U.S. Copyright Office. If ownership of the song is later disputed in court, the date of first filing will matter, but is not the only factor in making a determination of who actually wrote the song.

How much does it cost to copyright a song?

  • Single application (if you wrote the song by yourself) – $35.
  • Standard application (registering with a co-writer) – $55.
Publish My Lyrics | Demo My Song

What you will need to copyright a song.

1. Have your music and lyrics ready to upload.

2. If anyone besides yourself worked on the music, you will need their full legal name and contact info.

3. You will need to create an account with the U.S. copyright office so be prepared to supply a unique login and password.

How to copyright a song:

First, to copyright a song you first go to copyright.gov and click on Register on their home page. Then, you will choose the Performing Arts section unless you have any other work that you would like to be copyrighted. Before starting the application process, they offer a powerpoint that shows you the what the whole application looks like so you are properly prepared. A slideshow of the application is shown below!

OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE COPYRIGHTING PROCESS

If you have all of your assets ready to go, it’s pretty simple to register your song with the U.S. Copyright Office. Like most things .gov, their website is desperately behind the times. Navigating their 1995 style website can be annoying, but if you can get over that it’s pretty straightforward.

7 Comments
  • Cid
    Posted at 00:06h, 26 June Reply

    The United States Government steals enough from the American public without stealing more to protect our work. There are other avenues of registering copyrighted songs other than us.gov. The one I use is SongRegistration.com and you may upload unlimited songs for a mere $99.00 per yearly charge. It saves a person time and money by checking out other avenues of registration on their songs.

    • Trystan Matthews
      Posted at 00:09h, 26 June Reply

      $99 a year is outrageous. The fees I listed in the article are one-time registrations. It costs $35 to register your song with the U.S. Copyright Office which lasts for 70 years after the author’s passing. You can register a body of work (i.e. unlimited songs) for the same one time fee as long as you are claiming sole ownership. Songregistration.com and others that claim they protect your work for you, but fail to file with the U.S. Copyright Office are not legit services. Here’s an article by a music layer on the topic of websites such as these:

      http://www.askamusiclawyer.com/archive/can-i-copyright-unlimited-songs-for-99.html

      • Cid
        Posted at 00:12h, 26 June Reply

        Every time I register a song with us.gov. it will cost me $35 PER Song. And $50 for a compilation CD. I have already registered a compilation of 5 songs and it cost me $50.00. maybe you mis-understood SongRegistration.com… in one year I can upload as many songs as I want for $99.00, and if I discontinued my service with them..I do not pay any more per year, and the songs I registered with them stay protected for life…and so forth and so on. Have you ever checked into songregistration.com?

        • Trystan Matthews
          Posted at 00:14h, 26 June Reply

          I looked at their website and also did some online research. What they do is the digital equivalent to the “poor man’s copyright.” You’d get just as much value by emailing the song to yourself, which is to say.. not much.

          A copyright can only be fought in court if registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. There is no way around that fact. It says on the website of songregistration.com that they do not register your songs with the U.S. Copyright Office.

          • Cid
            Posted at 07:13h, 26 June

            Well, maybe I’ll just have to fork out some more money and have my songs protected by us.gov. Thanks for the info. You may have just protected my ass-ets 😉

        • Rob
          Posted at 22:00h, 03 September Reply

          Just came across this post and I wanted to drop my two cents if you don’t mind :).
          There’s actually a cost effective way of registering your copyright with the US gov, and that’s to do a batch submission one time. So if you have an album, just submit the whole album with all your song files under a single copyright. Only thing you’d need to do, of course, is to make sure you keep good records so you know what song was registered when under a batch/album registration (in the unlikely case of a dispute). I got this tip from John P. Kellogg, a Berklee professor who’s an entertainment lawyer for famous artists.

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