052 – The Basics of Music Copyright

by | Jul 18, 2017 | Podcast

Are you worried about someone stealing your music?

Are you trying to figure out the exact process for how to register your songs?

In this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast, I explain the basics of music copyright.

Podcast Highlights:

  • 00:14 – Music copyright
  • 00:22 – I’m not a copyright expert
  • 00:52 – Poor man’s copyright
  • 01:41 – The two types of copyrights
  • 01:56 – Registering your music
  • 02:16 – Cost-saving measures in copyrighting
  • 02:25 – Leveraging your copyright
  • 03:22 – Additional resources


Thanks for joining me. Today I want to talk about a topic that many of you have been asking me to share about, which is music copyright. I do want to let you know in advance that I’m not a copyright expert, so I would suggest doing your own research and even talking to an entertainment lawyer if you have the opportunity to do so. It’s always best to get tips and advice from the experts whenever you can.

But I also know that many of you appreciate the brevity with which I create these episodes because it helps you understand difficult concepts very, very quickly.

So, here’s my take on music copyright and what I understand about it right now. I may have more insights to offer in the future, but this is what I’ve got for you at the moment.

Poor Man’s Copyright

First of all, some people may tell you about poor man’s copyright. This is where you package up your material and send it to yourself in the mail so that it can be dated by the postal service.

Now, this all sounds good in theory and it seems like if you have a registered date on your envelope it would confirm that you put together your material on a specific date. But the reality is that this probably won’t hold up in court, so I can’t really recommend poor man’s copyright if there are any disputes.

Poor man's copyright probably won't hold up in court. Share on X

By and large, these cases are rare and I think most musicians don’t have completely original or unique music in the first place. We’re all taking inspiration from somewhere, but what you are copyrighting when you do copyright your music is your exact way of delivering a specific song, the lyrics, and the melody.

The Two Copyrights

There are two copyrights for every recorded work. This is always a good thing to understand, as many musicians do not. Number one is composition, which includes the lyrics and the melody. Then number two is the master recording, which is essentially how the song sounds.

Registering Your Music

Now, if you’re listening to this episode it’s probably because you’re looking to register your music. So, the easiest way to do this is online. You can file with the U.S. Copyright Office, which is at copyright.gov. If you’re in Canada like I am, then you would want to go to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. You can also register online with them.

Cost-Saving Tips

Now, here’s a quick cost-saving tip, which is to copyright your entire album instead of copyrighting individual songs. You’re going to save a lot of money doing it that way.

Maximizing & Leveraging Your Music Copyrights

Now, I do have a few secondary tips for you. Some people wonder how these things are connected to copyright, but the whole point of registering your copyright is to benefit from it. If you aren’t taking advantage of the right services, then you are not getting everything you can from your copyright, which is why you want to take the following steps.

The first thing you want to do is register with a Performance Rights Organization or PRO. In the States, you’ve got ASCAP and BMI. In Canada, we have SOCAN. Another organization that you should register with is SoundExchange. This may be a little bit of a laborious process for my Canadian friends, but still worth doing, and you may even have some royalties waiting for you.

Another aspect to this whole thing is publishing. I would suggest getting your music distributor to handle publishing royalties. You may have to pay them a little bit extra to do that, but it is so complicated and so much work to try to do yourself. So, to me that’s a no-brainer. It’s really just the easiest way to go about things.

Learn More About Music Copyright

Another great resource you can check out, and I also referred to this in creating this episode, is episode 186 of the DIY Musician Podcast, which contains a lot more great insights into music copyright.

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