A Songwriter’s Guide to Copyright

copyrightcopyright is a type of intellectual property that gives the creator of an original work, or another right holder, the exclusive and legally secured right to copy, distribute, adapt, display, and perform a creative work, usually for a limited time. The creative work may be in a literary, artistic, educational, or musical form.‘ (Wikipedia)

As a songwriter, safeguarding your creative work is paramount. Copyrighting your music ensures that your artistic efforts remain protected, giving you legal recourse in case of unauthorised use or reproduction. Here’s a factual guide to walk you through the process of copyrighting your songs.

Understanding Copyright Basics

Copyright is a form of legal protection granted to the creators of original works, including music, lyrics, and compositions. It grants exclusive rights to the creators, allowing them to control the use and distribution of their creations. As a songwriter, you automatically hold the copyright to your music as soon as it’s created and fixed in a tangible form, such as being written down or recorded.

Steps to Copyright Your Songs

1. Document Your Work

Before initiating the copyright process, ensure you have comprehensive documentation of your songs. This includes lyric sheets, sheet music, audio recordings, and any other relevant materials that establish your authorship of the work. Having clear documentation will strengthen your copyright claim and help protect your rights.

Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) serve as both creative tools and timestamps for original music. DAWs automatically record the creation date of musical compositions within project files, providing concrete evidence of ownership in copyright disputes. Additionally, features like version history and project backups further document the evolution of songs, bolstering the songwriter’s claim to their work. In essence, DAWs play a vital role in safeguarding the intellectual property of songwriters by digitally timestamping their creative output.

2. Register Your Copyright

While copyright protection exists automatically upon creation, registering your songs with the appropriate copyright office provides additional benefits and legal protections. In the United States, you can register your music with the U.S. Copyright Office online or by mail. The registration process typically involves completing an application, submitting copies of your work, and paying a fee.

3. Understand International Copyright Protection

If you intend to distribute your music internationally, it’s crucial to understand copyright laws in other countries. While copyright protection is automatic in many countries through international agreements like the Berne Convention, it’s advisable to research specific requirements and registration processes for each jurisdiction where you plan to distribute your music.

4. Consider Joining a Performing Rights Organisation (PRO)

Joining a PRO such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC can further protect your rights and ensure you receive royalties for public performances of your music. PROs collect licensing fees from venues and broadcasters and distribute royalties to their members based on the performance of their songs. Registering your music with a PRO can help you maximize your earning potential and monitor the usage of your songs.

5. Keep Records of Licensing and Usage

Maintain thorough records of any licensing agreements, collaborations, or instances of your music being used or performed by others. This documentation will be invaluable in case of disputes or infringement claims, helping you prove ownership of your songs and enforce your rights as a copyright holder.


Copyrighting your music is a vital step in protecting your creative endeavours as a songwriter. By understanding the basics of copyright law and following the appropriate steps to register your songs, you can ensure that your artistic legacy remains safeguarded for years to come.

Remember to stay informed about copyright regulations, keep thorough records of your work, and explore additional avenues for maximising the value of your music through licensing and royalties. By taking these proactive measures, you can enjoy greater peace of mind knowing that your music is protected and respected within the industry.