→ What Is Needed?
Many people, even some lawyers not familiar with these laws, are confused about the actual process and how it works legally.
While it's true that musical pieces carry automatic protection under federal law as soon as they are first put into tangible (physical) form, proving
that you in fact have actual ownership rights under federal law is an entirely different matter.
"Tangible form" can mean many things: Writing down your song on a piece of paper, recording it onto a CD, making a video or audio computer file of original material (such as an mp3 version). Original material is technically "copyrighted" – meaning protection attaches – from that moment on, without you having to do anything else! NO registration with the government is required. NO mailing copies to yourself. NO registering with a third party company is required!
But PROVING that you really wrote the original material, and when you wrote it, can be a huge problem... and usually is. So registering your material, as soon after writing it as possible, is not just a good idea, it's also the best way to ensure you have the necessary evidence to prove that you wrote the music first a key element in virtually all such disputes.
→ The Poor Man's Copyright
What is this? This is when a person mails a song he or she has just written to his or her own address and then doesn't open the envelope. The idea is that the postmark (or registered letter date) is supposed to act as "proof" of when the song inside the envelope was written. But...
Do NOT rely on this method to protect your work! It is a myth, not reality, that it offers ANY protection at all. This is because (a) contrary to popular belief, no one we know has EVER found even a single court case when this has actually worked, EVER
, and (b) there are very good reasons WHY it doesn't work:
The reasons center around what lawyers call "problems of proof" and authentication. First, it's just too easy to tamper with an envelope without it looking like you did, so don't expect the Court to find that your "sealed" and "postmarked" envelope is admissible evidence — it almost certainly won't be. Second, there are too many ways to "game" the system using this technique. And third, your only witnesses for authenticating this technique are you, your own equipment, and/or your friends - all "biased" and untrustworthy under the law.
We've written an article on this subject, describing this myth here
→ Final Points
If you want a fast and inexpensive way to maintain certified evidence of the key elements of your copyright protection both, the tangible-form dates of your work and the exact content of it at that time don't risk your original music on an unproven copy-cat service or on the mythical "poor man's" do-it-yourself method. Instead, use the global leader in independent music registration with a proven track record - SongRegistration.com - as tens of thousands of composers worldwide do.
[We also recommend registering your material with the Library of Congress as well, whether you do it immediately, or after registering them with us, for several reasons: First, federal registration does grant you certain "statutory" benefits which, although not necessary, can be beneficial, both money-wise and evidence-wise. Second, before filing an actual infringement lawsuit in federal court, federal registration is usually required.]
Bottom Line: One, ALWAYS consult with a good intellectual property attorney. Two, ALWAYS register your work as soon after creation as possible. Three, ALWAYS "police" the airwaves and all distribution outlets to make sure no one is stealing your material (because even if your material has lawful protection, no one checks for violations for