Copyright infringement is not as prevalent as most songwriters imagine, but it is important for songwriters to know their options and rights.
Is it Necessary to Copyright a Song?
All works are automatically copyright protected once created in fixed form (written or recorded)*. Singing it before a live audience does not constitute “fixed form”, and an idea or title can not be copyrighted. In spite of the fixed form copyright, official registration can determine rights in a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Is it Possible to Copyright a Collection of Songs Rather Than Individually?
Following a few guidelines, the short answer is yes! That means one form and one fee! A typical collection registration might include all songs on a CD plus the lyrics and artwork. The collection can be registered under one title such as the CD cover title, or simply “2009 Susie Songwriter Songs”. All songs in a collection must have the same copyright owner(s). Drawbacks exist to this registration process. If someone hears a song and tries to find it by a title search, that search will not result in a hit. Also, if a publisher is interested in one particular song registered in a collection, the transfer of copyright may be more complicated.
How to File a Song Copyright and What Does it Cost?
Forms can be obtained from the US Copyright Office on their website. The cost? $35.00 to file online, $45.00 in paper format.
When Does a Copyright Expire?
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a copyright exists for the lifetime of the writer plus 70 years. If the song is written by more than one person, it endures for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death*. A copyright on works-for-hire endures for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
What is Proper Copyright Disclosure?
A complete copyright notice on published works includes the symbol ©, Copyright or Copr. + the year of first publication + the name of copyright owner. Example: © 2008 Susie Songwriter
What is Considered Copyright Infringement?
Melodic construction is the same Both songs could be mistaken for each other
File sharing through sites such as Napster without permission or compensation to the copyright owner
When is a Song Public Domain?
A song is considered Public Domain if composed before copyright laws or when no one knows who wrote it. Once a song’s copyright has expired it is also considered Public Domain. As defined by Wikipedia: “The public domain is a range of abstract materials—commonly referred to as intellectual property—which are not owned or controlled by anyone. The term indicates that these materials are therefore “public property”, and available for anyone to use for any purpose.”
What is a Copyright Infringement Worth to a Writer?
Copyright infringement settlements vary according to many factors. The current big buzz is over Joe Satriani suing Coldplay. A list of copyright infringement lawsuits are available as researched through the UCLA Intellectual Property Project and Columbia Law School’s “Copyright Infringement Project”. According to their list, the earliest legal action hit the courts in1845 between Plaintiff Henry Russell and Defendant Samuel Carusi over “The Old Arm Chair”.