You’ve practiced for hours, written incredible songs, scrounged together the money to get them professionally recorded–and now your album is out in the world! Congratulations!
But with publicity comes the potential for someone stealing (and selling) your music. To avoid this terrible fate, make sure you copyright your music.
If you’re not sure how to copyright your music (or, more accurately, register the copyrights for your music), I’ll walk you through the 5-step process.
STEP 1: To copyright your music, first log into the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) registration website
If not, sign up for an account! It’ll only take a few seconds, and it will save you time in Step 4; there are a few screens where you’ll be able to click “Add Me” instead of entering your information over and over.
STEP 2: Choose “Standard Application”
Over on the left side of the screen, find the heading “Copyright Registration.” Then, underneath the big red “Register a Work” title, click “Standard Application.”
STEP 3: Complete the eCO checklist (12 screens)
Don’t be fooled–this might SEEM like a lot of extra work, but half the screens are ones where you can click “Add Me” and move on in a handful of seconds. I’ll carefully break it down!
Screen 1/12: Type of Work
Select “Work of the Performing Arts” (NOT Sound Recording–that’s different). Check the box to confirm that you selected “Work of the Performing Arts” and click “Continue.”
Screen 2/12: Titles
When you copyright your music, chances are, you’ll want to register the copyrights for an entire album. If you’re doing that, first select “Title of work being registered,” and then we suggest this naming convention for the album as a whole:
Group Registration of [Album Title] songs, [# of songs]; [Publication Month and Year]
Then, for each individual song, add a new title. This time, you’ll choose “Contents Title” and use this suggested naming convention:
[Song Title], Date of Publication
If you’re just registering individual songs, use the [Song Title] naming convention, but select “Title of work being registered” for each song.
Screen 3/12: Publication/Completion
On this screen, you just need to confirm:
- Whether or not your music is published. (Hint: If it’s online, it’s been published.)
- When you completed the songs you’re registering.
- When your music was published (i.e. uploaded).
- The country in which your music was published.
That’s all! No sweat.
Screen 4/12: Authors
This screen is as complicated as your song authorship process. If you’re a solo singer-songwriter, you’ll be able to get away with a single screen.
If you’re in a band, you’ll need to add each of your bandmates as authors and check their appropriate contributions.
For example, if you wrote the lyrics, but your lead guitarist arranged the parts for everyone (and performed), and your bassist and violinist performed their parts in the recording studio, these are the boxes you would check for each individual author:
- You: Lyrics
- Lead Guitarist: Music, Musical Arrangement
- Bassist: Music
- Violinist: Music
Screen 5/12: Claimants
If you’re filing this copyright registration, we can safely assume you’re the claimant. Click “Add Me” and move on to the next screen.
Screen 6/12: Limitation of Claim
Limitation of Claim only comes into play if you used work that’s been registered by someone else before–so, for example, if you produce rap music that primarily uses samples from other musicians, you’d want to exclude “music” and register “lyrics” and “musical arrangement.”
If your work is all original, there’s no need to limit your claim.
Screen 7/12: Rights & Permissions
Skip this–any information you enter on this screen is publicly viewable, which means you’ll be getting a whole lot more junk mail if you fill out your address.
Screen 8/12: Correspondent
This screen CANNOT BE SKIPPED. The US Copyright Office needs someone on file so they can contact you if there’s an issue with your application. Click “Add Me.”
Screen 9/12: Mail Certificate
This is where your official Copyright Registration Certificate will be mailed. Click “Add Me,” unless you want the certificate mailed to a different address than the one you signed up with.
Screen 10/12: Special Handling
Skip this–you don’t need it.
Screen 11/12: Certification
Click “Add Me.”
Screen 12/12: Review Submission
Make sure all your boxes are checked! Once you see 12 neat checkmarks, move on to Step 4.
STEP 4: Buy your copyright
View your cart. If you’re registering a group of songs (i.e. an album), your registration should cost $55. If it costs significantly more than that, something went wrong–likely in the “Titles” section! Go back and fix it before handing over your money.
STEP 5: Upload the content you want to register
The final and most important step–make sure the uploaded filenames match the filenames you registered on the “Titles” screen. Double, triple-check…and then you’re done!
When you’re not sure how to copyright your music, the process can seem daunting. But once you know where to start, it’s a pretty clear-cut journey from beginning to end, guaranteed to save you tons of emotional stress (and potentially earn you some money down the road).
Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema