I enjoy writing songs and have been doing so for a number of years. I would someday like to record a demo. How do I go about establishing the copyrights for my songs? They're obviously extremely important to me and I want to be protected in case they fall into the wrong hands.
There is a songwriter behind every guitar; and a composer on every piano stool. Ninety percent of them will never take one step toward the professional realm. Regardless of the action taken, to exploit their intellectual property, the authors are entitled to protect their creations. There are several ways to establish ownership of copyrights and protect songwriters and publishers rights.
A copyright is a form of protection provided, by title 17 of the United States code, to the authors of original songs and other intellectual works. The statutes apply to both published and unpublished material. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act affords the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce, perform, sell, distribute, rent, lease, lend and license the song for commercial use.
Copyright protection subsists from the time the work exists in a fixed form. The copyright in a work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who creates the work. As the song is written, note by note, word by word, the songwriter becomes both author and publisher. Only the author, or those deriving their rights from the author, can claim copyright. In the case of works made for hire, the employer, and not the employee, is considered to be the author.
The performing rights societies are charged with the responsibility of collecting monies due to writers an publishers. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are membership organizations charged with representing the interests of composers, songwriters, lyricists and publishers. Each provides a system for collecting monies due their members from the users of music. Through affiliation with international societies, these organizations protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of songwriters around the world, by licensing and distributing royalties from public performances.
Affiliation with these societies is relatively simple. Each has a strong online presence and for a few hundred dollars will enroll new members and provide copyright protection. Copyright ownership can also be be established through the Library of Congress at a twenty dollar per song charge.
The easiest access to protect a copyright is accomplished through http://www.websongs.com/. This is a new Online Music Resource and Copyright Registration service. Websongs is a free service for Songwriters to list songs and compositions and for Recording Artists to list recordings. Websongs is also an online resource for music, where anyone can search for songs or recordings that they want to find out more about. This Internet system is particularly artist friendly and equally effective.
Professionals, who are more likely to accrue earnings, are better off joining one of the performing rights societies who have global monitoring and collection systems. However, in a legal dispute, a song that has been properly sealed by a postal employee, and remains unopened, can establish that the song existed as of the postal date. For the beginner, websong works and will protect his rights.