By Cathy Baldwin, DaCat Music
Many budding songwriters have limited knowledge about copyrights or their importance. They will often ask, “Why should I copyright my work?” The answer to this critical question is multifaceted and should be addressed from multiple angles.
First and foremost, procuring a copyright for one’s intellectual property is the hallmark of a professional. When was the last time you read the song information on a CD insert and didn’t see a copyright designation? It is simply the responsible thing to do as an artist. The failure to copyright your work is asking for trouble that you don’t need.
Secondly, you should copyright your work because doing so is simple. It requires filling out a short form and paying a small fee. The entire process can be done online these days and takes only a few minutes. You can even group songs that you haven’t recorded or published yet into a collection and register them all at one time for a single fee.
Having a copyright not only protects you, it protects your heirs. A copyright protects your work for the duration of your life plus an additional 75 years. If you are fortunate enough to score a hit with one or more of your compositions, having a copyright ensures that your estate will retain the rights to those songs in the unfortunate event of your death. Without a copyright, your works could become part of the public domain and of no further monetary value to your estate.
You should copyright everything you write in the event that something you write later sells well enough to gain the attention of the music industry. If you have a desire to be a professional songwriter then success is your ultimate goal, right? You should behave now as though you already have two or three hits under your belt, because once you do the older stuff you have written could be sought out by others. You see it all the time with musical artists. Songs From the Vault or The Lost Tracks. These are songs that never made it on an album or were never published and have just been sitting around. Copyright everything now and believe that you will need that copyright later.
Finally, you should copyright because the digital age changed everything. You make a great demo and you’re so excited that you immediately create a lyric video and publish it to YouTube. Congratulations. If your song is hot and that video gets a lot of views, everyone and their Uncle Charlie will have it on their phone or media player tomorrow. You won’t see one penny from it and if someone else claims that they wrote it you will have no legal recourse. It happens all the time. You can only do so much to prevent unauthorized sharing of your material, but you can at least validate that it is yours with a copyright. You should also join a publishing rights organization such as ASCAP or BMI, but that’s a subject for another time.
As an artist, your intellectual property is your most valuable commodity. Treat it with the respect it deserves and copyright.