Tip on Being a Professional Songwriter: Saving Money on Copyrights

When artists first start creating with being a professional songwriter in mind, information floating around can be a little misleading about copyrights. It is surprising that there are still people who would like to think that cheap copyrights can be achieved by mailing something to yourself, but take a moment to walk through that theoretical lawsuit in the context of the music industry:

You and your band get a hit song stolen by a multimillion dollar record company backed boy-band, and you put together your case using all the money you didn’t make from the royalties of your plagiarized work. You walk into the courtroom facing a team of lawyers, all of them sharks sizing you up for the value of a counter-suit, and your best evidence is a disc sealed in a padded mailer, and perhaps the other members of your band who by hearsay claim you were the first to the punch. For more on this and other issues in music law, you can check out this article here on our own site.

A copyright through the Library of Congress, on the other hand, would mean that an official report was available showing exactly when they received the record of your having written the song, and exactly what you recorded when you documented that as your own composition.

So now you’ve faced facts and you’re ready to invest in actually protecting your work. The best way to save on copyrights is to register fewer of them altogether. If you are immediately concerned about the safety of something you have written, by all means file immediately. But the fact is, if you wait until you have a collection to bundle into a single registration, you can save quite of a bit of money, especially over time.

It used to be that one needed to fill out what’s called Form CA after registering a collection of songs in order to validate the collection entirely. Now that the copyright office is online, you can simply call what you are submitting a collection and go through the Form PA process, checking the box along the way that this is not just a single work you are registering. One snag–this savings plan assumes that each song in the collection is going to get the same songwriting credits across the board. (You can’t give your drummer credit for tracks 1 and 3 and take credit for the rest yourself, for example).

If all you want to protect is a single song, it is $35, and the fee for a collection is $55. To fill out the paper application and send a hard copy representation of your work, the Library of Congress penalizes you for the extra manpower in the mail-room, charging $85.

Once you have your collection together and have a record of it (it doesn’t have to be a high quality recording at all–just as long as it can be heard, or read in the case of lyrics), you are ready to get your form together.

  1. Go to http://www.copyright.gov–or if you don’t feel the need to peruse the website’s information, go straight to the Register a Copyright page. You will need to register with them first (in a manner similar to many websites requiring some personal info). From there, you are going to want to register your songs as a work of Performing Arts, using Form PA. For the hard copy application process here is the PDF link: http://copyright.gov/forms/formpa.pdf
  2. The website is fairly intuitive. You will follow some slightly less intuitive prompts along the way. One is regarding the “Type of Work.” For this “Add” a “New” listing. Select “Title of work being registered” for each song you want to include, and click on the “edit” icon to the right of the listing when you see it, to put in every detail you can about it. It’s the same process when you get to the “Authors” section of the form–remember that you won’t be able to save money registering songs with different combinations of authors.
  3. Some of the next steps (“Limitation of Claims,” “Special Handling”) you might be able to skip through (by pressing “Continue”). Look them over to see if they might apply to your situation.
  4. When you’ve added all the information the Copyright Office requires, it’ll be time to “Review Submission.”
  5. Finally, after you review the information, you’ll “Add to Cart,” and check out. Note that after checkout is when you’ll upload your material.

So there you have it! For each demo of material you might save yourself one hundred dollars, provided each song is written by the same author (or combination of authors, such as the entire band), and you take the time to put it all into one registration form!

Indie International is here to offer as much information as possible to creative people in the entertainment industry. Please feel free to contact us for more information about songwriting and the music industry.

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