by Alex Cosper (1/12/13)
The best way to establish yourself as the copyright owner of music you create is to register the work at Copyright.gov, which is the United States Copyright Office, a division of The Library of Congress. The site allows you to register songs, which can be done electronically. The site also has links to Copyright Law, regulations and proposed regulations. By visiting the Electronic Copyright Office you will have access to all the necessary forms for visual arts, performing arts, sound recordings and single serials. It's where you can research the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Registering works requires a fee listed on the site and sending in a copy of the recorded material.
One of the powerful tools provided by Copyright.gov is a search engine for registered works. Simply by entering a title in the box will lead to song information such as author, date and number of registration, a description of the media submitted with the date of creation. You can research your entire catalogue this way to make sure you are not duplicating registration. Whenever you register a claim for a song you are creating information that can be researched by the public online.
Once you register your work with the Copyright Office, the song will be protect for the rest of the author's life plus seventy years. If the song is a work for hire, the work is protected for 95 years after its initial publication or 120 years after its creation, whichever comes first. The registration does not have to be renewed. This means that you are in control of your registered songs for the rest of your life, meaning people will have to seek your permission to use the material.
Since the process for registering songs can take several months after you've submitted your forms, some people like to take additional immediate measures to prove they authored a work. This can be done by sending a copy of the work in the mail to yourself or registering the work at MyFreeCopyright.com. However, this evidence might be dismissed in court, depending on the circumstances. That's why it's best to create a stack of evidence that proves you are the true author of the song.
Don't think for one minute that there aren't sharks in the music industry who steal songs for a living. There have been several cases in which music presidents who didn't have an ounce of creativity put their names on records as songwriters even though they had nothing to do with the songwriting. It could have been part of the deal with a songwriter or just flat out stolen. One popular artist of the 1990s was sued by an unknown songwriter who claimed copyright infringement, but the pop star prevailed even after acknowledging in an email to the unknown songwriter that the song was improperly credited. Sometimes it comes down to the most experienced legal team.
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