Copyright Primer

Poets and songwriters need to be concerned about copyrights, so…

A few key points:

  • You have a copyright the moment you finish your song or poem (“work”). I know that may seem bizarre, because most people think you have to DO something proactive to “get” a copyright. What they are confusing is “getting” a copyright versus “registering” a copyright.
  • You “register” the fact that you created a work (and therefore have a copyright) by filing with the US Copyright office (or other countries’).
  • “Registering” a copyright gives you two basic things:
    • “Proof” that you created a work and when you created the work.
    • Certain automatic results in the event you have to sue somebody for infringement of a copyright:
      • The right to automatically recover attorney’s fees if you prevail in an infringement lawsuit.
      • The right to receive statutory damages for each infringing act, rather than judge-decided damages.

I can tell you that as a practical matter, nobody around here (Nashville) registers their copyrights until a song is actually going to be released. It’s too expensive –$50 per song unless you actually know you are going to make some money.

Moreover, if you keep good records, you will have a date trail of what you wrote when. I write everything on a Google Site, so every single word I write has a third-party backup (Google) and is time- and date-stamped.

Finally, one thing you should know is that if a song is “released” into the public domain (on a CD, on the web, or played in concert), you must register the copyright within 90 days of release or you lose the “automatic” rights referred to above (Source, Source.)

Dig in deeper…