How to Register a Copyright

Understanding what a copyright is and why it is so important, depending if you decide that you need complete protection of your work under the laws of copyright you will want to register your work with the Copyright office.  You could directly contact the office for the forms you will need to register a copyright or you could go directly to their website at and download the forms yourself.
Before you start filling out forms, you will need to know which forms to request. First, request "Circular 1 Copyright Basics" or read up on the FAQ’s on their website. This is a very concise and easy to understand primer on copyrights. Read it first before filling out any forms as it answers a lot of questions you might have. If you want to register only your lyrics or only instrumental music, use the "Circular 50 Copyright Registration for Musical Compositions". If you want to register a song with lyrics and music embodied on a tape or DVD (this is was 99% of bands want), use the "Circular 56 Copyright for Sound Recordings". Both Circular 50 and Circular 56 come with detailed explanations about registering music and include the appropriate forms.
What bands often do not understand is that when they record a tape, they have two separate copyrights. First, they have a copyright in the music and lyrics of the song, the composition and written lyrics in the song. The second copyright is the copyright in the sound recording. This means that a band also has a copyright on the recording of the song.  Or a company who recorded the song can own the copyright of the sound recording and not the band but the composers and writers of the song(s) own the music and lyrics of the song.
When registering a tape or DVD, you want to register both the underlying music and lyrics and the sound recording. Circular 56 and specifically Form SR within Circular 56 is what you will want to fill out. Form SR allows you to register both the lyrics and music and the sound recording in one copyright, and perhaps more importantly, with one fee.
When registering your band’s work do you register each song individually or register the album as a compilation of works? As with any business, there is a fee to register and protect your work which is defined on the copyright office website.  It is a fee that is required for every copyright you request.  If you want to register each individual song on its own, it could become an expensive expenditure.  By registering the entire compilation of songs under an album reduces the paperwork and fees down to one registration and all songs under that compilation are protected equally as it would be if registered individually.
If you have original artwork for the cover of your tape of DVD, you may copyright that as well. Use the form "Circular 40 Copyright Registration for Works of the Visual Arts". In this Circular, you will find Form VA which is nearly identical as the forms for registering music. Similarly, the Circular walks you through step by step.
The above are the basics of registering you work for copyright.  By reading and understanding the material and what kind of copyrights to obtain for you work it will make it easier to register.  However if there are still questions contact the Copyright office directly where they can answer any questions that you may have.

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