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Should you copyright your music? | #AskAD 4

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QOTD: Should you copyright your music?

This has long been a hot topic issue for artists and producers. Let me explain for a moment how copyright works: the very moment you create a piece of music, whether that's lyrics you penned, vocals you recorded or a melody you composed, you already own the copyright to that music. The issue comes with proving that you are in fact the original creator of that piece of music. When it comes down to it, if you're ever faced with a legal challenge over the ownership of a piece of music, you need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that those lyrics, or that vocal or that melody was in fact created by you and no one else.

There are some obvious ways you can do that. For example, you should always keep save files and backups of your work. Make sure you have all sessions, stems, adlibs, notes and documentation available at all times. Data might be the most valuable asset you have as a musician, so make sure you have everything saved and backed up in multiple locations.

Another way that you can safeguard your music is to register it with your performance rights organization (PRO), such as BMI and Ascap in the US, GEMA in Germany, or PRS in the UK. If you're not yet affiliated with a PRO I would highly recommend doing that right now regardless, as it's the only way you are going to be earning royalties and capitalizing on your music in the long term.

Finally, a lot of artists also register their tracks with the copyright office (https://www.copyright.gov). This is probably the most secure option but it comes at a price - around $35 for a registration. Fortunately you can register your music in bulk, the price is the same whether you register 1 song or 135 songs. So even for independent artists it is an affordable option.

There will be few situations were having a registered copyright for your music is actually going to benefit you, but in a worst case scenario where someone is suing you or you are suing someone else over music ownership, having the security of a formally registered piece of music can be worth putting the extra work in for. Finding yourself in a court room is very rare however, as litigation is time consuming and expensive and most everyone (especially the major artists and labels) will want to avoid this if at all possible.

Be very clear about the following: registering your music with the copyright office will not protect you in any way from people stream-ripping or stealing your music or passing it off as their own. No one is going to enforce your copyright for you online or offilne. If you try to go after the culprits they are just going to disappear into cyberspace. So don't think that my having a piece of paper that formalizes your copyright ownership of a piece of music, this is somehow going to magically protect your work.

One big myth that needs to be crushed for good is the concept of the 'poor man's copyright'. Some artists would have you believe that mailing a self-addressed envelope containing a recording of your music that is time stamped by the post office is a fail-safe way to prove copyright ownership. This is a load of crap. Envelopes can be easily tampered with, stamps tampered with and forgeries created. This will never hold up in a court of law. Don't waste your time.

In summary then - should you copyright your music? Yes, if you have the time and financial means to do so. If not, keeping save files and backups and registering your music with your PRO should be perfectly sufficient.

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