With this tutorial, I hope to give musicians out there some basics about how copyrighting works. Please keep in mind that I am American and that I am speaking about how copyright laws work in the USA. Knowing these facts and more is very important for those who are writing their own music...
First, let's start with a basic overview of what copyright is. The act of copyrighting is claiming steak over your intellectual property. This can apply to a variety of things including music, print, and anything else that is considered intellectual property. As songwriters, copyrighting is very important to us because it is all that we have...If we don't have ownership over the work that we have created, there isn't anything else left for us to claim. For the purposes of this tutorial, I will only be focusing on copyright as it relates to music.
The second that you fix your song in tangible form, meaning when you write down or record your music and/or lyrics, your work has technically been copyrighted. It is a common misconception that you must some how get your work copyrighted in some other form. All that needs to be done to for you to some how get the idea in your head into some sort of tangible form. For me, the easiest way to do this simply by recording my idea, but simply writing the music out is valid as well. However, please keep in mind that you cannot copyright a chord progression and that you must have a unique idea. In the next section, I'll talk a little bit about registering your copyright...
While you have technically copyrighted your work as soon as you hit the record button and save your song, registering your work is almost a necessity for those who are planning to truly steak claim of their works. In the US, the Library of Congress would be where you would register your work, which can be done in a variety of ways. It can be done both through the mail and can now be done online as well. There is a fee for each work you register, but I usually just register a whole album on a single form to save money, although you can't claim as much money were you to have go to court. In other countries I'm sure that there is a similar system, but I would encourage you to check it out for yourself to see how your government does this.
While this isn't related directly to copyright, another issue in the same vein is the registering your work with a performance rights organization. Companies like ASCAP, BMI, and SESEC will collect royalties your behalf every time your song is performed in some sort of medium. This is a process that should be done around the same time that you are registering your works, as I like to get it all out of the way at once and be done with it...
Copyrighting is not something that should be overlooked. While a lot musicians and songwriters will neglect to do this, it is very important because you never know when a disagreement of ownership could happen. If you take care of your business and register your works and have your proof in order, you'll be a lot better off in my opinion, especially for those of us making a living at music. The more that you can build up your catalog, the better off you will be in terms of publishing and it is absolutely crucial that you take the proper steps to secure your works.
Since this tutorial is from the point of view from someone in the US, please do some research about your country's copyright laws as they can differ and it is important to know how things are done in your nation...