What copyright do I have on my own music?

• Jan 29, 2020 - 01:47

Hello everyone

A while back, I wrote a few songs (that you can check out https://musescore.com/user/21891016/scores/5878179 and https://musescore.com/user/21891016/scores/5721981)
I was wondering what copyright I can put on the music. I'm fine if people play it, but I don't want it to be played at a paid event (where people have to pay to see it). What copyright(s) should I put on my music?

Also, what penalties could someone who takes my music to play at a paid event punish, after the copyright has been put on? (Just curious)



Well, in the US, the only sure way is to apply for a copyright with the US Patent Office.

That said, you can add copyright line to all your music. You can also mail a copy of the music to yourself. The post office puts a date stamp on mail, and that stamp might prove that you owned the contents of the envelope on that date as long as you don't open it. A court might recognize these methods. But probably not. It has to honor a government issued copyright.
Even so, I doubt you will ever know who does what with your music. If you do get to court, it can be expensive.

I'm not saying it's not worth it, but do some research.

In reply to by bobjp

Several misleading statements here. First, copyrights are not patents; ti\otally different procedures. Second, while filing for a patent is the only way to get a patent, that's not relevant for music - music isn't patented. It's copyrighted. And filing for copyright is not required, in the US or virtually any other country. Your music is fully protected by international law the moment you write it, no filing required. Finally, the mail-to-yourself hack is an old wives tale, never once been successfully used in court.

My understanding is that you have to be able to prove date and you then have proof. You own the copyright by virtue of have composed the piece. The suggestions in the above post are ways to do that.

In the US, and probably most countries, it's virtually impossible to prevent people from playing your music in public once it's out there. Best you can do is sign up for one of the performing rights societies like BMI or ASCAP so they can collect royalties from the venues on your behalf. But if your songs isn't being played extremely often, chances are the royalties will takes years to ever add up to as much as a dollar.

Venues that don't pay ASCAP or BMI tend to sued and forced to stop have live music. Sometimes there is a penalty paid as well, but it would go to BMI or ASCAP, not you.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Yes, I should have said "US Copyright Office". My point is that in the US the best course of action is through the government. The other things on my list are things that have been tried and as noted, won't hold up in court. While there are international agreements, they only apply to legally copyrighted works to begin with. And they vary from country to country.
As you say, it is not likely that you can keep someone from performing your music. Copyright only gives you some recourse if you can prove the music is yours to begin with. Then only worth it if there is enough money involved.
Even churches pay licensing fees to perform contemporary music.
Trying to make any money from writing music is a whole other topic.

In reply to by bobjp

legally copyrighted works
All works are, by default, by international laws copyrighted without having to undertake any action at all.

The hard part is being able to prove that if/when it matters; and that's where the whole shebang of registration and deposit offices come into play, along with their lawyers.
But legally speaking, none of that is required.

In reply to by jeetee

Sorry, but the government websites I checked say that there is no such thing as "international copyright laws". There are international agreements that try to deal with already registered works. But I can find no support for anything that automatically covers anything as soon as it is written. And what possible good would that do if it doesn't hold up in court.

In reply to by bobjp

Apologies, it seems to be European Law (which in my defense is "international" ;) ) where copyright is a protection of the right of the author on reproduction and distribution of the work.

That's all there is to it.
There is no requirement to register your work to be granted that right, being to author of it is enough. Yes, you may attempt to register your work, and it becomes harder for someone else to claim it as their own afterwards; but if they have proof that the work is theirs and not of the one that registered it, then the court does rule in favor of the author; not in favor of the registrant.

I've been there, in court, with non-registered works (as the only registration office in my country is operating quite similar to how the mob works), but with proof of publication and performances and have so far won both cases.

It's proof of authorship that counts when having to go to court; and while registration could facilitate procuring such proof, it is (at least in the EU) not a requirement.

In reply to by bobjp

It’s true the term ”international law” is an oversimplification. each country has its own laws to sure, but there are many things that are guaranteed to be in common because of agreements like the Berne convention. Bottom line, in virtually every country on earth, registration of copyright is not required. It’s one of the most essential such guarantee.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I agree that you don't have to register. But explain to me how I have a ghost of a chance of proving that I wrote something unless I do register it. There may be circumstances where I don't have to register, of course. But to say that because I wrote something and therefore it is automatically copyrighted is misleading. Just because I have a score in my hand that has my name on it and a date, doesn't mean anything in and of itself.

Again, of course you don't have to register, but you can't assume you are protected as much as possible if you don't

In reply to by bobjp

Publishing your music - here or elsewhere - establishes that you had the piece in your knowledge at a certain date, no one will possibly be able to prove they had it earlier.

In any case, the question was about how the law works. The law does protect you immediately, that's why this clause was added to the Berne convention and why it was such a big deal when the US finally signed on a century later (!). It's between you and your own comfort/paranoia level how much extra protection you feel you want. The vast majority of songs are never "stolen" to begin with. The vast majority of cases where someone uses a song without permission, they cease with a simple written letter, it never goes to trial. And in the extremely unlikely event such an event happens and it does go to trial, it's almost certain you'd win, because a) they would be crazy to claim they wrote it if they didn't, and b) your publishing constitutes evidence of your authorship. But, sure, you are always welcome to "register" your copyright for extra piece of mind, and if it makes your wallet lighter, so much the better I guess :-)

In reply to by xavierjazz

Come on now. We all know that I'm going to write the next great piece of music that everyone is going to want to steal. Right?
Another question would be what does the Bernie treaty copyright cover? We all remember the Ghost Busters/Huey Lewis problem. I've done some reading on it. Pretty convoluted. Everything always says check local laws.
I don't care about it for myself. However, copyright is a many layered and complicated thing. Sure, most music may not have a problem. It just seems to me that if you believe in your music, then why not take care of it the best you can.
As far as my own music goes, it's crap so I don't have to worry about copyright.

In reply to by bobjp

The Berne Convention covers many things, it's worth reading more about if you wish to understand copyright better. I don't know that anything about it changes anything about the Parker/Lewis case. That case had to do with the similarity of one song to another song - whether it was similar enough to constitute infringement. That kind of thing is typically not spelled out in any detail in the law, it's just a matter of how any one particular court/judge happens to make the call. So nothing about any changes to US law relating the Berne Convention were really relevant. In any event, it was settled out of court so we never got to hear a judge's opinion.

You could consider selling your music online with Amazon's TuneCore or another provider. It costs you a fee to do this and you may or may not ever earn much from it but at least your music is publicly logged as belonging to you.

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