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Please Note: HangTime is not a Lawyer. He does not play one on the Teley. He would question anyone's sanity that would take anything he says as legal advice. Hopefully you will find this educational as well as entertaining, however anything dealing with Law or Government is complicated (they make sure of it ... it's called Job Security), and it is important to do your own research. If there is something you're not sure about, please consult with a lawyer.

Also note that this article is based on Copyright Law in the United States, other Country's laws may vary.

So I wrote these really awesome songs, how do I make sure no one steals them? You're probably thinking of "Copyright"

Yeah, that's it! How do I do that? It's easier than you think

I SO hate when you say things like that. No really it is. In fact it's so easy you don't have to do anything at all to own the Copyright.

Huh? Since 1978 any copyrightable work is technically Copyrighted the moment you actually create it.

Coolness, so I'm done. Well there's a little more to it if you really want to be fully protected, and be able to sue for damages should someone actually steal your work.

See, I knew it wouldn't be simple, it's never simple with you! Don't panic, it's really not very difficult at all.

First a little background, with no legal-speak. As I said, the moment you actually create something (write it down, record it, draw it, etc, more than just having the idea in your head), you own the copyright ... the right to copy, or create something based on, your work.

The catch is that you want to be able to prove that you created it first. A friend told me that I could seal my work in an envelope and mail it to myself. Yeah, that is unfortunately a Myth (worth emphasizing: Myth!) The fact is that it offers no legal protection, and while every case is different, legally you can not sue for damages without a registered Copyright.

Are you sure? Have I ever lied to you? Welllll... Fine, here is a direct quote from the Library of Congress:

Do I have to register with your office to be protected? No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

Fine. How do I get a legally registered Copyright? It's as easy as mailing a CD of your music along with the proper form and filing fee to the Library of Congress (LOC).

Ooookay. So where do I get this form. The LOC rather conveniently offers the Copyright forms on its web site.

headBoom. What was that? My head exploding, yet again. Well, yes, there are a dizzying number of forms to choose from, but wanted to be sure all possibilities were covered (and I like the way your eyes bulged out when that page loaded)

Okay, I think I figured it out, I have a CD of original music, so I need to use form SR for Sound Recordings. Err, not exactly

What? Why? It's a Sound Recording, isn't it? This could be a little confusing, don't panic.

{rolls eyes}. The SR form is for protecting the recording, not the songs and lyrics.

Aren't they the same thing? Like I said, the concept might take a moment to grasp. Suppose you have a song you wrote called "Slammin'Metal Maniac" and you copyrighted it, music and lyrics, and released it on your debut album. Now some time later you decide to release it on an album of live recordings (all previously released and copyrighted), you'd still want to register this album, though the songs are already copyrighted. For this, registering the recordings (not the songs themselves) you'd use form SR

I think I get it. So it's like, hmmm. Okay, the SR form registers the album itself so that no one would be allowed to duplicate it and start selling it, but that wouldn't let me sue for damages if they ripped off my music. Did I get it right? You get a gold star. Very good.

So if SR is not the right form, which one is it? Use Form PA to register your song.

Here's how the Copyright office describes the uses for form PA:

Use Form PA for registration of published or unpublished works of the performing arts. This class includes works prepared for the purpose of being "performed" directly before an audience or indirectly "by means of any device or process." Works of the performing arts include: (1) musical works, including any accompanying words; (2) dramatic works, including any accompanying music; (3) pantomimes and choreographic works; and (4) motion pictures and other audiovisual works

So I just fill out the form and send it in with a CD that has my song on it? And the Filing Fee, yes.

Ugh, and how much is that? $45. Before you send anything, check the Current Fee Requirements on the Copyright Offices Web Site, just to be sure.

ACK! And I have to do that for EVERY dong?! Don't panic, form PA also allows you to send what they refer to as a collection. IOW a Book of poems for instance, or in your case, a CD full of music and lyrics. Here's what the Copyright office says about it:
Under the following conditions, a work may be registered in unpublished form as a "collection", with one application form and one fee: An unpublished collection is not indexed under the individual titles of the contents but under the title of the collection.

Or in simple terms: a CD of your songs with a single title

Cool, I'm totally getting it. I knew you would.

How long does Copyright last? Copyright law has changed over the years, and along with it the time period of Copyright protextion, however we'll skip over the history lesson and just stick to the relevant information for you. Since January 1, 1978 your work is protected for your entire lifetime, plus 70 years.

oldWhy 'Plus 70'? I mean, if I'm dead and all... I can't offer you the exact reasoning for choosing 70 years, but the thought behind the extension past your lifetime was so that you could leave the work to someone in your Will.

BTW, there are a couple more bits that could be relevant. If you hold the copyright along with someone else, it's the entire lifetime of the last surviving Copyright Holder Plus 70 years. Also, for anonymous or pseudonymous works (unless the author's identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of Copyright is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Is there anything else I should do? I always see things like the word "Copyright" with a funny little symbol and such. Back in 1976 that was indeed required, however this requirement was abandoned in 1989, so you no longer have to do so. However, there are reasons you may want to follow the worldwide standard practice of labeling things in the form:

Copyright © HangTime. All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Why? Copyright Law varies from Country to Country, using this form is the standard used by most of them, and without doing research on every country, I can't tell you if some may still require it. And besides, it just looks dead cool!

Umm, before I forget, how did you make that little circle-c thingie? You're going to love this, it's really... don't say it! ...but it is, really simple. Just hold down the OptionKey and press the letter "g" key, bingo, a Copyright symbol (©). Oh, of course those are instructions for a Mac, for other platforms you're on your own.

Nice, thanks! Glad I could help

Now, err, you're not going to steal my song before I get it Copyrighted are you? No. (And you mean "Registered" it's already copyrighted). Boom. Now for our many friends around the world, it's not realistic to try to cover everything in an article of this type, however I do offer you a starting point. If you're not sure where to start to research your own country's laws, perhaps the International Copyright Relations of the United States page can help you to find out what to search for to better understand the laws governing your Rights.

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