How do you copyright music to protect yourself?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Eric_71, Aug 28, 2013.


  1. Eric_71

    Eric_71 Supporting Member

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    Cleveland, OH
    Hi all-

    I did a quick search for this but results seemed to vary a lot, so I wanted to throw it out to you; at worst, you can direct me to the most relevant previous threads. I have been elected as the financial/tax/legal guy in our band, which makes sense since I'm generally the most anal and/or organized. Since we are now recording our first album (we're taking a mini-album approach of 5-6 songs), the idea of copyrighting came up. The singer brought up the old idea of mailing yourself a copy of the recording on a CD, but I'm wondering if there isn't a better or more modern way to do it.

    Seeing how we are in the age of digital music, how do you guys protect your tunes to make sure the melody or relevant parts aren't poached by other bands who might hear your music online? We are offering our music for free, so making it private until we publish it or whatever might be only peripherally relevant. I don't say this assuming we are super-awesome or anything, but more in a best-practice preventative way.

    Any info you can provide on how you account for this in your original band would be highly appreciated!
  2. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member

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    HPF Technology: Protecting the Pocket since 2007
    From what I've read, mailing yourself a copy is an urban legend.

    Let me ask everybody else for an opinion of the following: Upload MP3's to a cloud data storage service. I'm guessing that the service maintains and shows the upload date in your file list. If so, then it proves that you had the material on a particular date.
  3. Rick Auricchio

    Rick Auricchio Registered Bass Offender

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    Cambria, CA (Central Coast)
    My understanding:

    - Your work is copyrighted the moment you create it. You can choose to register with the US Patent & Trade Office (USPTO), which provides additional evidence you can use in a lawsuit. But if you can produce solid evidence of your earlier work, that's OK too.

    - Mailing to yourself might be a way to show a creation date, but there are probably a bunch of other ways to do that.

    Remember, though, if you are not equipped to go to court against an infringer, it's all a moot point.
  4. Biggbass

    Biggbass Supporting Member

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  5. Space Pickle

    Space Pickle

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    Apr 15, 2013
    The only real way is to get it recorded first and even then you could lose a legal battle.

    IANAL IMO AFIAK OMGWTFBBQ ect
  6. seang15

    seang15 Supporting Member

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    Cary NC
    Great to see this thread! I just went through the process of Copyrighting a few songs with this: http://www.copyright.gov/

    What is the major difference between doing that, and registering with BMI/ASCAP? DO we have to do both? Or is this apples and oranges? I have performed with so many folks who registered their music with these publishing companies, but I realized, I've never done it for myself!

    I.e. we register our tunes with the publishers (BMI/ASCAP) simply to collect royalties on those tunes, if and when needed? Would we still have to copyright, or is it recommended but not necessary to do both? etc.

    Thanks folks!
    Sean
  7. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member

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  8. casper_morgan

    casper_morgan

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    I've heard that if you copyright a song all someone has to do is change one note and they can then make it there's. I was told that it is smart actually NOT to copyright but instead PUBLISH the music/recording.... this supposedly prevents that from happening... does anyone know if this is true or not?
  9. bjabass

    bjabass

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    It's your lawyer against theirs.....they have lots of lawyer money.....usually.
  10. hennessybass

    hennessybass Supporting Member

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    My advice would be to become a member and start a publishing company with ASCAP or BMI. Publish your music with them. This is how you collect royalties, receive other benefits, and they advocate for you.

    If your band does the "group writing" and everyone gets equal credit, then set up your publishing that way. If you do individual writhing, then each individual that is a writer needs to start a publishing company.

    -- for example, Lennon & McCartney had a publishing agreement, that is why you see "lennon McCartney" on their songs. Even though Lennon had nothing to do with Yesterday, he still gets publishing credit. This is an agreement that they worked out as very young men. Harrison and Star have their own publishing companies for their songs.
  11. Leo Smith

    Leo Smith Supporting Member

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    To the OP, find the book "Music Law in the Digital Age" by Allen Bargfrede, published by Berkelee Press. It will answer many of your questions, and also give some historical background of the laws.
  12. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Supporting Member

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    I'm not a lawyer, but this is my understanding: I think some clarification is in order - "copyright" is exactly what it sounds like, rights over copies of the whatever-it-is you created (a song, a poem, a book, painting, whatever). You AUTOMATICALLY own the copyright if you created it, unless you sign something granting the rights to someone else. Even if you don't do a blessed thing other than create it, you still are the copyright owner.

    What's at issue in these discussions is not HAVING a copyright but PROVING you are the copyright holder. If you write a song and then a year later hear someone else performing it without your permission, how do you prove that they ripped you off? What if they turn around and say no, they wrote the song and YOU ripped THEM off?

    The government's copyright office doesn't hand out actual copyrights, and I don't believe they even settle copyright disputes, that's done in the courts. What they do is offer a service to register CLAIMS to copyrights. You send them a copy of the work, pay the fee and fill out the paperwork, and then they have on file a claim that copyright to X piece of work was claimed by you as of Y date. If you go to court with the guy who ripped off your song, the judge or jury will look for evidence of who had it first; and whoever has the earlier registration with the copyright office will probably win.

    Other forms of evidence are possible, of course, like the old registered-mail-to-yourself thing. But they don't necessarily stand up in court with the kind of force that an official copyright registration does. Ultimately, the question is whether you think that your song is something that would be worth going to court over someday. If you're counting on it to make money, or think someone else might try making bank of it, then register it. If it's just something you worked up in your basement for fun, you probably needn't bother.
  13. hennessybass

    hennessybass Supporting Member

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    Based on what you are saying, it seems like publishing the song with ASCAP or BMI would be a pretty good indication that you are the copyright holder.
  14. Whit Townsend

    Whit Townsend

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    Hartselle Alabama
    This is relavent as Im backing a young songwriter whos pretty good and we are taking the music public soon. We've just completed a 5 song demo.

    Anybody done the publishing thing? To me that sounds like the best way for him to protect his work. Whats it cost to form a publishing co? Do you need a lawyer? Are their canned agreements online you can download? Do you have to register the company as a business and get a tax #? What does BMI or ASCAP charge per tune, or to be a member?
  15. hennessybass

    hennessybass Supporting Member

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    I am a member of ASCAP, but never started a publishing company since I am not a songwriter.

    My ASCAP membership is free, and as I recall, I filled out a one page form to join... this was years ago. The publishing company was also a one page form.

    I would check out their web pages and try to get some info. When I signed up, it was kind of pre-web (it was around, but not like now), and this girl in some office helped me and the other guys in my band out.

    If you are a songwriter and putting it out on discs or digital, you should be doing this! This is how you get paid! Ever heard the term "Mail Box Money?" Of course that money might be a check for about $.10 that you get 5 years from now;)
  16. Whit Townsend

    Whit Townsend

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    Jan 24, 2006
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    Hartselle Alabama
    I checked the ASCAP pages and it cost $50 to register as a songwriter and $50 to register a publishing co. Both one time fees. Seems you can then register individual titles for free, but thats not totally clear.

    BMI registration is free for songwriters but $150 for a publishing company as single owner/also writer/ self publishing deal. Its more, $250 I think to register a publishing co with multiple members. Again its unclear if they charge to register per song it seems they don't.

    But for either, they do not require a copy of the work. I'm not sure how that would help you in proving a copyright. All it would prove copyright wise is you registered a song with the same title. Seems someone could change the name and steal the song and BMI/ASCAP wouldn't be of much help.
  17. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Supporting Member

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    Not necessarily. The "other guy" could still claim to have written the song and therefore say you had no right to publish it. If they can document that, they win.

    RE "publishing." Again, let me stress I'm not a lawyer and anyone who's serious should get professional legal advice on this topic. All I'm doing is passing along what I've read as best I understand it. But anywho, American copyright law recognizes a variety of different rights in a song. First of all, it distinguishes rights to the song from rights to the song recording. For example, if you write a song and someone does a cover of it, they owe royalties to you for any money they make on it. However, because it's their recording and not yours, they have the rights to do as they please with their cover version. So any copyright paperwork you do or contracts you sign need to specify where rights stand regarding both the song itself and your particular recording of it.

    The other distinction is in rights to the recording, both the artist and the publisher have rights to it. So you need to specify both who the artist is and who the publisher is. In the kinds of situations most of us are probably in - some indie originals band putting out our mp3s on a CD or website with no record label involved - the song owner, recording artist and recording publisher are probably all the same person or group of people. But it does need to be spelled out.

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