As I explained in What is a copyright?, as soon as you write your song down on paper or record it on tape, you have a copyright. You do not need to send your material to the Copyright Office in Washington D.C. to copyright your songs. What you do with your tape is you register it with the Copyright Office. This article will tell you how to do this easy task.

The first thing you must do is get the proper forms. Since this the federal government, there is a form for everything. Fortunately, the copyright forms are easy to obtain. The easiest way is calling the Copyright Office form request line. The phone number is (202) 707-3000. You can also write to them requesting forms at US Copyright Office Library of Congress Washington D.C. 20559. I have found it takes ten days to two weeks to receive your forms either way you use. You can also reach the Copyright Office Web Page.

When you call to request forms, you need to know which forms to request. First, request "Circular 1 Copyright Basics". This is a very concise and easy to understand primer on copyrights. Read it first before filling out any forms as it answers a lot of questions and helps avoid pitfalls. If you want to register only your lyrics or only instrumental music, request "Circular 50 Copyright Registration for Musical Compositions". If you want to register a song with lyrics and music embodied on a tape or CD (this is was 99% of bands want), request "Circular 56 Copyright for Sound Recordings". Both Circular 50 and Circular 56 come with detailed explanations about registering music and include the appropriate forms. All of these circulars are also available to download at their Web Site.

What bands often do not understand is that when they record a tape, they have two separate copyrights (excluding any cover artwork which will be addressed later). First, they have a copyright in the music and lyrics of the song. If the songs were reduced to sheet music, that would be the first copyright. The second copyright is the copyright in the sound recording. This means that a band also has a copyright in that particular recorded version of the song. If they re-recorded the song, they would not have a new copyright in the underlying song, but they would have a new copyright in the sound recording.

When registering a tape or CD, you want to register both the underlying music and lyrics and the sound recording. Circular 56 and specifically Form SR within Circular 56 is what you will want to fill out. Form SR allows you to register both the lyrics and music and the sound recording in one copyright, and perhaps more importantly, with one fee.

Another popular question is whether to register each individual song as a separate copyright or register the tape as a whole. Registering a tape with one copyright registers all the songs on that tape. I usually recommend this route to bands. Let's face it, registering could get expensive at $30 a pop if you register all your songs. The only advantage to registering each individual song is that each song has its own entry in the Copyright Office register. This could be advantageous if someone wanted to find out who owned the copyright to a song but did not know what tape or CD it came from. They could search for the song and find an entry. In practice, there are easier ways of finding out who owns the rights to a song than delving through the millions of copyrights in Washington D.C. For this reason, copyrighting each individual song is usually not the most effective procedure for a band with no recording contract. Later, if a band becomes successful, your record company will probably require you to record each song individually. But for the average garage band, one copyright is all you need.

If you have original artwork for the cover of your tape of CD, you may consider copyrighting that as well. Request "Circular 40 Copyright Registration for Works of the Visual Arts". In this Circular, you will find Form VA which is nearly identical as the forms for registering music. Similarly, the Circular walks you through step by step.

This column has provided the rudiments of copyright registration. Although registration may seem daunting, if you know what to ask for and are willing to invest some time in reading the instructions accompanying the forms, you can copyright your material.

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