Do I Need to Copyright My Music?
I love how it is becoming popular for piano teachers and piano students to compose music! Because it’s so popular, it’s also becoming easier with all the notation apps, programs, and advice from published composers coming out.
But one of the questions that gets asked frequently, but not answered accurately is:
Do I need to copyright my piano music in order to have protection?
Before I answer this based on careful research, consultation with an attorney and logical thought, I need to say first: I am not an attorney. I am not giving you legal advice. I am merely reporting to you some of the facts. If you want to be certain, you will need to consult your own attorney to ensure that what you want to accomplish is being accomplished.
When does copyright protection start?
From a document entitled “Overview of the Music Publishing Industry,” written by Robert E. Allen, and submitted by Linda A Newmark, the authors state:
Generally, the writers hold the copyright in the composition from its inception. As soon as the writers create the composition and either write it down or record it, the copyright springs into existence and protects the composition from use or exploitation by others.
Did that surprise you? You can copyright your piano music when you first write it down or record it. And your protection springs into existence at that time! But I’ll bet now you’re thinking…
Wait! I thought I had to register my music with the copyright office to get protection.
Again, from the “Overview of the Music Publishing Industry:”
Many people believe that a writer does not receive the protection of the copyright laws until he or she registers with the copyright office. This is not the case. While it is true that registering a composition with the copyright office provides notice to others of a writer’s claim to a composition and permits the writer certain additional remedies against a copyright infringer, registering a copyright is not a prerequisite for claiming an ownership interest in a composition. The concept of copyright is important to the music publisher because the copyright holder has the ability to license a composition’s exploitation and use and by so doing has the potential of generating income.
So why do publishers register a copyright for a book or piece of piano music?
To answer this question, I had to personally ask an attorney who works with intellectual property (IP) issues. Here is what he said:
Publishers and others in the music business usually register as a matter of best practices so that they are prepared to defend their IP portfolio of published works. Further, they do so to put the world on notice of their copyright claims. While registration is truly a legal option to any author or composer, many smaller publishers opt not to register every work and instead only register when they have to deal with infringement. This is because a registration is a legal prerequisite to filing suit in Federal Court.
Additionally, registration is required to have the ability to claim statutory damages instead of actual damages. By way of example, actual damages are the damages you actually suffered while statutory damages could be a judicially determined number “in a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30,000 as the court considers just” per infringement. The calculated damages can thus far exceed the actual damages and thus presents a significant advantage to the author whose work was infringed.
So I have this piece that I just want to get out there and maybe sell it myself. What do I need to do?
Here is what the IP attorney said:
Mark your works with your copyright claim and consider registration if you start to publish a lot of works. Marking involves putting the typical “Copyright 2016, All rights reserved, Compose Create, LLC” or “© 2016, Compose Create, LLC” would both be examples. For more detail on marking your various types of material see http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ03.pdf.
I hope this is helpful and even encouraging information! I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you surprised?
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