How to Copyright Songs and Recordings

Mandolin over sheet music


What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (other countries have their own copyright laws) for original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. Copyright literally means “the right to copy”.

For music, two separate forms of copyright exist; one for the “Performing Arts Work” (the song/composition, made up of words and melody) and another for the “Sound Recording” (the audio recording of the composition)

The Copyright Office

The Copyright Office is the place where claims to copyright are registered and where documents relating to copyright may be recorded when the requirements of the copyright law are met. The Copyright Office also furnishes information about the provisions of the copyright law and reports on facts found in the public records of the Office. 

The Office has an extensive website where you will find answers to almost any question regarding copyright law, why it exists, and how to get it. The website also provides a means of searching copyright registrations and recorded documents from 1978 forward, as well as links to related resources.

A brief summary of steps to take to copyright a song:

  • Record a copy of your song (in a digital audio format or simply as written sheet music)
  • Visit to make an online copyright filing, and register a free account.
  • Complete the online copyright application
  • Pay the $35 fee
  • Upload an electronic copy of the work
  • Wait for the application to be processed