You've spent many hours on the new song, honing the lyrics and polishing the melody; now, how do you copyright it? Any artistic expression is protected by copyright law at the moment of its creation... but how can you prove ownership? The option (for U.S. musicians) is registration with the United States Copyright Office. (For copyright information in non-US countries, see Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (UK), and The Australasian Performing Right Association Limited.)
The copyright law of the United States (title 17 of the United States Code) provides for copyright in "musical works, including any accompanying words," which are fixed in some tangible medium of expression. Musical works include both original compositions and original arrangements or other new versions of earlier compositions to which new copyrightable authorship has been added. The Copyright Office registers claims to copyrights and issues certificates of registration, but does not "grant" or "issue" copyrights. Under the present statute, copyright protection begins at the time a work is created in a fixed form such as a writing or recording. Original musical works may be registered in published or unpublished form. For unpublished works and works published on or after January 1, 1978, registration in the Copyright Office is not a condition of protection; however, there are certain advantages.
The copyright law of the United States (title 17, U.S.C.) provides for copyright protection in sound recordings. Sound recordings are defined in the law as "works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work." Common examples include recordings of music, drama, or lectures. Copyright in a sound recording protects the particular series of sounds "fixed" (embodied) in the recording against unauthorized reproduction and revision and against the unauthorized distribution of phonorecords containing those sounds. Generally, copyright protection extends to two elements in a sound recording: (1) the contribution of the performer(s) whose performance is captured, and (2) the contribution of the person or persons responsible for capturing and processing the sounds to make the final recording.
Copyright forms in PDF form are available from the United States Copyright Office at the Library of Congress located at http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/forms/. The forms require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print.
If you choose to register a claim in your work by mail, send the following material in the same envelope or package to:
Register of Copyrights
Copyright OfficeLibrary of Congress
Washington, D.C. 20559
1. A properly completed application form;
2. A nonreturnable deposit of the work to be registered; and
3. A nonrefundable filing fee of $30 with each application.
For more information see the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 for all the legal mumbo jumbo about copyright infringement and more.
SESACCopyright Resource Center
Copyright Clearance Center
National Music Publishers' Association, Inc.
Musicians' Intellectual Law & Resources Links
NPSAI Songwriter and Music Copyright Resources
The Copyright Website