Copyright Information

All copyrighting is handled through the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

Copyright forms

Paper copyright forms are being phased out in favor of electronic forms. There are now three options: 1) Direct online registration with the copyright office, 2) electronic fill-in forms that you fill-in online, then print out and mail in, or 3) the old paper forms which you can still either print out yourself, or have sent to you. The form you will need for copyrighting a song (music and lyrics) is form PA (Performing Arts).

Note that as the information explains, you must have the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader installed to open the downloadable pdf forms. Adobe Acrobat Reader is free, and you can get it either by clicking here, or on the link provided on the copyright form info. page.

For more information or to actually file Form PA, click here.

If you want to copyright your whole CD as one work, you can. However, there are certain restrictions with this method. See eCO "FAQ" concerning "Filing a collection of works with a single application" for more details. Although this is not quite as good of protection as individual copyrights on each song, it's a whole lot cheaper. And, you can always come back and copyright the songs individually at a later time as you deem necessary (such as if one particular song becomes a hit). To do this, you simply list the "Album Title" in the first space on the form called "Title of this Work" (where you would normally put the song title).

IMPORTANT: Simply mailing a copy of your song to yourself and not opening it is not an effective substitute. And it will not stand up in court.

If you plan on distributing and selling your own CD's and cassettes, you can help protect yourself from "bootlegging" by copyrighting your sound recording. This is different and separate from copyrighting the songs themselves. (For just a demo, this would be overkill). The form you will need to copyright your sound recording is Form SR (see "Alternate Registration Methods: Registration with Fill-In Form CO").

*Tip - When sending materials or forms to the Copyright Office, do it via "Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested." This way, they will have to sign for it upon arrival, and the signed (green) card comes back to you in a week or so, whereas the processed Copyright form will take much longer for you to get back - up to 4 or 5 months. This signed (green) card proves that it's already in the possession of the Copyright Office, which means you can safely proceed with your promotional plans without having to wait so long, or worry about whether it was lost in the mail. According to the Copyright Office, your copyright becomes effective the moment they receive all of your materials and payment in good order. This is why you should send in all materials and forms by Certified Mail, Return Receipt.

ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC are non-profit Performing Rights Organizations, not copyrighting organizations. Basically, their job is to monitor T.V. and Radio air play, collect the royalties, and then distribute these royalties back to the writer(s) and publisher(s). You must sign up with one of the above (of your choice) or you will not receive any royalties no matter if your song is played a million times. You only need to do this if your song is about to be released on a widespread basis; not just played on a local radio station. And don't bother if you are just cutting a demo to send to individuals such as producers, publishers, record labels, or artists.

BMI Nashville Office = 1-615-401-2000 (press #2 for "Writer's Application" to join)

ASCAP Nashville Office = 1-615-742-5000

SESAC Nashville Office= 1-615-320-0055

Publishers are basically "song agents" who specialize in getting your song to the right producer and/or the right artist. While publishers will re-copyright your song (if they accept it), it only is for the purposes of publishing and will not take away or change your being the author or writer of your original works. They must do this, or it may not be registered as a published work, which would not only keep them from receiving any royalties, but also possibly hinder the success of your song on the airwaves for being an "unpublished work." Note however that recently the rules were changed, and now songwriters can actually publish their registered works themselves, without a publisher.

If you look on any major label release, you will see something like "Blue Sky Music, BMI," for example. This is the publisher of that work. Virtually all record labels have in-house publishing, so sometimes this will be the label's own publishing company. Sometimes the publishing may be registered under more than one company, for the writer may have gone to a publishing company first who then in turn found a deal with a record label. When this happens, they normally split the publishing royalties between themselves as per their own agreements. Publishers are "song agents," and record companies and talent agencies are "performer's agents," although often times they can all become involved.

If you don't write songs and are simply performing songs that other people wrote, then you don't need to worry about the above. Anyone is free to perform, or even record, any song that they want to. However, if you plan on recording songs that you did not write and then SELL copies (CD's, tapes, etc.) for profit, then you are supposed to contact the Publisher of these songs and pay them fees to do so.

If your intentions are to make a "demo" of songs which you did not write, that is not intended for sale but rather, "for promotional use" to promote yourself as a performing artist - like to send to a record label or a producer, then you do not have to contact the Publisher(s) of the song(s) and pay them their fees. It's only an issue if your primary goal is to sell them for profit.

Depending on who you ask, there is sort of a "gray area" in-between the two paragraphs above . . . if not in theory, then at least in practice; some performers record and distribute copies of songs that they did not write which they use primarily "for promotional use" and send to producers, labels, etc., and then also sell a limited number of copies discretely (like off the stage while performing) in order to recover some of their recording and pressing costs. While it is technically illegal to sell them this way, from what we've seen it is normally overlooked by the song's copyright owners as long as it's not abused and excessive and kept "low key." However, you are likely to get radically different opinions on this though - again - "depending on who you ask." We have even had clients that contacted several publishers in relation to several songs, and got different answers from each! That being said, bypass this protocol at your own risk for we are merely pointing out our observations, and should the recordings start selling by the thousands, we would definitely advise you to contact the Publisher(s) (or the writer if it is an unpublished work) and secure the proper royalties arrangement to avoid possible future prosecution.

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