Did you know that a songwriter doesn’t have to register their work in order to own its copyright? That designation automatically exists once the work is in tangible form. The obvious question, then, is if you own it already, why go to the time and expense of registering with the Federal Copyright Office?

It turns out there are some good reasons for the creator of original work to take that step. And it isn’t difficult to accomplish, especially if you understand the difference between owning the copyright on your work and registering it.

Protect your masterpiece today!

The Difference Between Copywriting and Registering

The copyright protection for your original song exists as soon as the piece is finished. As the author of the song, you are free to use the full word “copyright” (or its abbreviation “Copr.”) or the symbol © on your work. This designation signals to others that you retain exclusive rights to distribute copies, translate, reproduce, create derivative works, and display the song as yours in public.

However, simply inserting a copyright notice on a work does not register the work. There is no requirement to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office. But if you  do register it, you can pursue damages if someone attempts to use your work without your permission. So, it may be worth your time and money. There are also some other advantages to registering your original work.

Other Reasons for Copyrighting and Registering Original Work

As someone who creates original work, you know the hours of concentration that go into one song. The copyright is a visual, public statement that you own all the rights to your song and only you can give permission for its use.

Registering the copyright also acts as public proof of when you created the song. That’s  important because it establishes a starting point for protecting the work. A registered copyright lasts for the rest of your lifetime plus 70 years. If you sue someone for misappropriating your work during that period of time, you (or your heirs) may be entitled to damages and attorney’s fees if you win the case.

 A registered copyright clearly establishes that:

  • You intend to publish.
  • You are establishing the date of the work’s creation.
  • You want to control the work’s distribution.
  • You will protect the integrity of your work.
  • You want to control who makes money from your work.

Going through the process to register your work protects all your hard work and creative effort.

The Purpose of the Registration Process

The primary purpose of registering your copyright is to create a public record for your work. This record includes:

  • Title of the work
  • Author of the work
  • Contact information for the copyright owner
  • Year of the work’s creation
  • Publishing information if applicable
  • Information about any existing registration

There is also a filing fee and one or more copies of your work must be “deposited” with the Copyright Office. Check here for more information on the registration process. 

The Validity of the “Poor Man’s Copyright”

Many artists, writers, inventors, and other creatives have heard of the “poor man’s copyright” and wonder what exactly that means. More importantly, will it protect their work? 

The poor man’s copyright involves sending a copy of your work to yourself to supposedly provide a form of legal protection. Unfortunately for those relying on it, the poor man’s copyright is basically an urban legend; there is no protection awarded for sending a copy of your original work to yourself. There is nothing outlined in copyright law about this practice, and it is not a viable way to register your work. 

Fees for Registering a Copyright

The fees to secure registration of a copyright are:

  • Registrations completed online are $45 for a single application. 
  • Paper registrations for a single application are $125.
  • Preregistration of unpublished works is $200.

Payment is accepted by major credit card, deposit account, Automated Clearing House (ACH) debit, check, money order, or bank draft payable to the U.S. Copyright Office. Currency is accepted only in person at The Copyright Office.

Should I Hire an Attorney to Register a Copyright?

The process for completing your registration online form is not difficult—the Copyright Office intentionally made their system as user-friendly as possible. However, there are some instances when consultation with an attorney might be wise. The average charge for an experienced lawyer to register a copyright is from $250 to $500.

If your original work is the result of a collaboration with someone else, there may be ramifications that an attorney can point out to you. As a songwriter, you hope your song will have wide commercial value. An attorney may be able to help with protecting and maximizing that value. You may also need to know how to protect and maximize the value of your work outside the US.

In a nutshell, although the basic registration of your copyrighted work can be a simple process, seeking advice from an experienced attorney to anticipate any possible problems is worth considering as you proceed.