Q. What does that © symbol mean? What about (P)?
A. Copyright notices in music come in two forms. The symbol © refers to a copyright in a musical work. The symbol (P) refers to a copyright in a sound recording. Regardless of which symbol is used, each is followed by the year of publication (see section on the Duration of Copyright for a general definition of publication) and the name of the copyright owner.
Copyright notice is no longer legally necessary to ensure copyright protection in many instances. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended that all embodiments of a copyrightable work include copyright notices to ensure others are informed about the copyright ownership. Thus, all CDs, DVDs, or other recording mediums, as well as sheet music, written lyrics, and packaging materials for a recording, should include copyright notices.
Q. Do I have to register my original music in order to get a copyright?
A. Contrary to popular opinion, registration of a work is not necessary in order to obtain copyright protection under the law. Since 1976, copyright protection begins automatically from the moment a work is created and fixed in a tangible medium.
Despite the foregoing, registration with the federal Copyright Office is strongly recommended. By not registering, an artist misses out on certain rights and privileges. First, the artist cannot collect mechanical royalties under the “cover” license. Second, if an infringement lawsuit were to be filed there would be no recovery. Third, anyone may challenge the artist’s copyright and the artist will have the burden in court of proving the copyright is valid (i.e., registration ensures the challenger has the burden in court). Fourth, the artist can’t get certain types of monetary damages for infringement or recover attorneys’ fees paid in the course of a lawsuit.
Q. How do I register my copyrightable music?
A. As previously discussed, an artist obtains copyright protection automatically upon the creation of a copyrightable work. However, in order to avoid the penalties previously discussed, an artist should register a work with the federal Copyright Office. This can be done online at http://www.copyright.gov/forms/.
To register a work with the Copyright Office, one simply fills out the application, deposits a copy of the work, and pays a filing fee of $30. The appropriate form for registering a musical work is form PA (performing arts). The form for registering a sound recording is form SR (sound recording). If the SR form is used and the artist owns both the musical work and the sound recording, the registration covers both the musical work and sound recording copyrights. More than one song may be registered for a single fee by putting the songs on a tape or CD and registering them simultaneously as a collection using the form SR.
If registering with the Copyright Office is too expensive, an artist can use the “poor man’s copyright.” This consists of simply mailing an envelope with a copy of the song enclosed to oneself, preferably by certified mail, and storing the envelope, unopened, someplace safe when it arrives. The primary reason for using this alternative registration method is to provide proof of creation of a song. This could be extremely important if someone later uses or records the song and falsely claims he actually created it.