How Do I Copyright A Song?

Abbie Stancato of Rocking Gods HouseI want to copyright a song. I was thinking about mailing it to myself, will that protect me? I am considering filing the copyright form, but they have two different forms, and I have no idea which one I should use. I called the Copyright Office for help, but still don’t understand the difference. How do I copyright my music?

Abbie’s Reply…

This is a very in-depth question. I’ll do my best to simplify the answer.

Do not mail a copy of the song to yourself. That is considered to be the “Poor Man’s Copyright.” It involves sending a copy of the song to yourself through the postal service, and never opening it. I am not an attorney, but that is poor protection at best!

Please legally copyright your music through the Copyright Office.

There are two forms available to Copyright your music… The PA Form (Performance of Art), and the SR Form (Sound Recording).

At the least, file the PA Form. This form protects the lyrics and underlying music. What that means is that you are copyrighting the exact lyrics, and the basis of the song. Here’s an example: If you file the PA form, and I want to perform your song, and change the lyrics… I CANNOT! I must have your permission!

However, I can re-record your song using your exact lyrics, play it with variation, and I do not need your permission. Why? Copyright law allows anyone to record and release the music of any other artist or band. They require me to pay you a compulsory rate (maximum non-negotiated price) for each version I produce for sale and distribution.

This does not cover placing the song to video or the like; that requires negotiations on a case-by-case basis and is called Synchronization Rights.

So why am I ranting about others re-recording your music? Because it sets up the explanation of the SR form.

The SR form covers the EXACT studio recording. Example: Mercy Me originally recorded “Word of God Speak.” When the song was initially written, they most likely filed the PA form to cover the lyrics and underlying music. After completing the song in the studio, they filed the SR form to cover that exact Sound Recording. Several years later, I came along, performed a remake of the song, and released it for radio airplay and for sale on iTunes. I am not the original writer, so I completed a SR form which protects and establishes only my recorded version of the song.

I recommend you copyright all of your music online. Under MOST circumstances, you can fill out the forms online and upload your lyrics and songs directly to the Copyright Office Website. Furthermore, you can reduce your expenses and file several songs (a compilation of songs) under one PA Form. However, I’ve been told by attorneys they recommend each song get filed with its own PA Form, and each version of a song the band releases should be filed under an individual SR Form.

I am not an attorney, so always contact the Copyright Office with questions and consult an attorney when in doubt. Don’t be under the misconception that Christian music does not require the same protection as the secular market. Protect yourself to the fullest extent of the law so you can later Rock God’s House!