What is a copyright?

What is the technical term for a copyright?  As described on the dictionary.com website, a copyright is the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.: works granted such right by law on or after January 1, 1978, are protected for the lifetime of the author or creator and for a period of 50 years after his or her death. A question that is frequently asked is whether a song that created must be sent to the Copyright office in Washington, DC in order for their songs to be protected by the copyright law.  The short answer is no, but a writer of the song must take steps that in the event of an infringement on their copyright that the songwriter has adequate proof that the song belongs to them. 
As soon as you write down your lyrics on a piece of paper or record your music down to tape or some kind of electronic form, you own the copyright that piece and no one else can steal it. From the instant your material is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" it is copyrighted and protected. So, if you hum a song in your head there is no copyright as you don’t have tangible proof that you created it, but, the moment you write it down or record it you have a copyright. By putting your ideas in some tangible form, dated, signed or other proof to determine the creation date of your work automatically grants you ownership and copyright of the piece you created.
What you do need to be concerned about is to being able to prove when you created your musical work. If someone does steal your material, you have to prove that you thought it up first. A common way to date your work is what is known as the poor man's copyright and this involves sending a copy of your tape or lyrics through certified mail addressed to yourself. When you receive the package in the mail, do not open it; save it in its unopened condition. What this does is put a date on the recording or written work which would be the day you mailed it. Should you have to go to court, you could give the unopened tape to the judge and prove when you created the work.  However for full protection of your work you should register it with the Copyright office as this is more legally sound than just mailing your work to yourself.
As soon as you have a copyright, you can use the copyright notice which is written "©".  You do not have to register with the Copyright Office in order to use this symbol although it is recommended. By using this symbol it puts the world on notice that you are claiming a copyright of the material created. Since March, 1989, it is no longer necessary to place the © sign before a copyright notice in the US. Under prior law, if you did not place the magical © sign on your work, you no legal protection of your work, however you still want to use the © sign as there are other countries where the © sign is still required. You would not want to loose your protection in these countries.

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