Monday, August 27, 2007


Songwriting is a cathartic exercise that allows musicians to escape the conundrums of daily routines. From the first spark of melody to the flicker of promising lyrics, the process of creating something from nothing is genuinely rewarding. Just as painters display their work on gallery walls, song writers are driven to gauge public reaction of their compositions. Whether performing the number at an open mic night at the corner coffee house or posting it on a music community sites like, the music is out in the open to entertain audiences.

However, many songwriters hesitate before sharing their creative property for fear of other artists stealing their original ideas. This is where a copyright comes in. It's important to note that original work is copyrighted the moment it is recorded on paper, computer file or disc. Protecting the work, though, is another issue.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of 'original works of authorship'...It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of the copyright." The official U.S. Copyright site features a list of these rights and includes the three basic steps to securing your own official sound recording copyright--which requires an approximate six-month turn around and a $45 registering fee.

For home made artists looking for a cheap alternative to the watertight and time-tested U.S. Copyright Office method, the myth of the "poor man's copyright" may satisfy. The basic concept is to mail a copy of the work (recorded song and lyrics) to yourself and leave the envelope unopened until the day you have to prove you created the material yourself. Unfortunately, it would be easy to fraudulently duplicate this method by mailing an unsealed envelope to yourself and, therefore, appears to hold little legal value. For more pros and cons on the poor man's copyright, visit, which notes "Cheap copyright methods have never proved as reliable as the official methods."

Posting songs online at sites like could be considered a new, tech-savvy poor man's copyright since you would have a link to the existing music in addition to the website's record of the original posting date. A search for information to back up this simple online copyright solution came up empty, so it may or may not be any more effective than mailing a copy of the song to yourself.

Music business attorney and author Don Passman said it best in a article when he backed up the argument to go through proper channels when claiming ownership for creative material: "You don't need it to register the copyright in Washington, but it is a nice piece of evidence. If someone claims he wrote the song on such-and-such a date, and you can prove you wrote it before that, then it helps."

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