Copyrighting and licensing your music

A breakdown of the processes that protect indie musicians and songwriters.

Copyrighting and licensing your music

Understanding music copyright

On the surface the copyrighting process seems easy. Once you write a song and set it in any fixed format, it inherently belongs to you, thanks to Intellectual Property Rights. You own the rights to copy, profit, and distribute it to fans everywhere. However, you can take additional steps to protect your property rights and ensure you’re entitled to the ownership of your music. Copyrighting and licensing are involved processes and can often be confusing for musicians and songwriters. From protecting your original work to breaking down master rights, we’re here to help you understand how it all works so you can focus on what’s important, making music.

Registering your music with the United States Copyright Office

How much time did you put into your new album? You didn’t do the bare minimum to create your music, so don’t do the minimum to protect it! Register your original work with the United States Copyright Office (https://www.copyright.gov). Doing so creates a public record with the Library of Congress and allows you to claim statutory damages if anyone attempts to infringe on your work. Official copyright registration is worth doing if you’re planning on distributing your music. You can register a single song or an entire album. The price is the same and is approximately $50. Most artists elect to copyright an entire album, but you certainly can copyright a new single or an EP.

How long does it take to copyright music?

If you‘re using the online submission form, the United States Copyright Office registration typically takes three months. Paper registrations can take up to ten months.

“Poor man’s copyright”

If you’re a musician or even just familiar with this industry, odds are you’ve heard of “poor man’s copyright.” This is an unofficial method of proving copyright and it involves mailing yourself a copy of your own work. This isn’t a substitution for actual copyright registration. Although mailing something shows a stamped date, it’s not recognizable as official proof of copyright. Save yourself the time and the trip to the post office.

Sound Recordings and Performing Arts

There are two different types of music copyright: Sound Recordings (SR) and Performing Arts (PA). If you’re copyrighting Sound Recordings, you’ll fill out the SR form. This encompasses the protection of all recorded sounds (the actual audio of a smooth melody or your vocalist hitting those high notes). On the other hand, when you’re copyrighting the written composition of your music (split sheets, lyrics, chords, etc.), you’ll be filling out the PA form. If you write and perform your own music, you only need to fill out the SR form. You can easily go this route, as long as you are in fact the owner of both copyrights.

Registering a composition with a performing rights society

As a songwriter, you deserve the right to collect royalties whenever your copyrighted music is being performed. After you fill out the PA form for your composition, you may want to register your song with performing rights societies such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. These organizations collect royalties from venues, streaming services, radio stations, etc., whenever your music is played and then distribute the songwriting earnings to you.

Disc Makers and the rights to your music

Disc Makers and the rights to your music

If you choose to print CDs or vinyl with us, you may be wondering if Disc Makers owns any of the rights to your music. The answer is NO! Regardless if you‘re creating physical media or using any of our mastering services, Disc Makers will never own any of your music rights. We require all of our clients to show proof of ownership and valid copyright registration before using any of our manufacturing, duplication, or mastering services. Also, we love to hear awesome cover music, but if your project contains any third-party material, Disc Makers can’t move forward with you until we receive a copy of the proper licensing.

Master use and mechanical licensing

Even if you have just a snippet of someone else’s sound in your project, you’re not safe from copyright infringement. If your master contains any music sampling, you’re required to purchase master use licensing and include proof-of-purchase with your project. Master use licensing involves the license holder receiving the right to use recorded music in another project. Even if it’s a 5 second sound bite, you still need to acquire this license.

In addition, all cover music requires mechanical license authorization. Each song and format (disc, download, ringtone) requires a separate license. If you’re interested in more information about music licensing, check out this video of our CEO, Tony van Veen, breaking it all down.

Clear your cover songs with Easy Song Licensing.

Owning your master rights

It’s becoming increasingly important for artists to hold onto their master rights instead of handing them over to a label. If you sign documents that issue your master rights to a label, they’re entitled to license your master recordings to third parties.

This means that your music could be used in TV shows, commercials, or any other similar work, and you’d receive zero financial compensation. As an indie musician, there are numerous outlets for you to make money with your music. With music consumption being so accessible, you can maintain your masters rights and have your music available for your fans on streaming platforms, discs, vinyl, etc. There are plenty of ways to increase revenue from your music, and you’re in the best position to explore all of these outlets if you have total ownership of your master recordings. For more information on this topic, check out this blog post click here.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that allows you to use “some rights reserved” music, videos, or any form of content, for free. Certain musicians and artists elect to release their music under Creative Commons (CC) and allow others to legally upload, share, and make copies of their songs. So, why do artists register their music with Creative Commons? The answer isn’t always the same, but for the most part, it’s because artists receive increased exposure when others are sharing their work. If you plan on using work that is CC-licensed, make sure you abide by its established sharing and usage rules.

Fair use exemptions

There are exemptions to United States Copyright Law, known as fair use, that allow you to use copyrighted work for specific purposes without cost or licensing. Copyrighted work can be used in an educational setting, in news reporting and journalism, and in any other sort of informative, classroom-like environment. Fair use allows for discussion and commentary. It’s important to understand that all instances of fair use are subjective and are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Make sure your music is protected

Make sure your music is protected

Whether you’re a casual musician or spend most of your time on tour, it’s important to protect your work and possess official ownership of your intellectual property. Without copyrighting, licensing, and master rights, you wouldn’t be able to profit and generate revenue. So when you’re working on your next album, EP, or cover, keep this information in mind and contact us if you have any questions.