How to Check if a Song Is Copyrighted

By Cynthia Tucker ; Updated June 15, 2017
Guy singing into the microphone close-up

According to U.S. copyright law, a work is automatically copyright protected upon creation. However, most people register their songs with the U.S. Copyright Office to ensure legal protection in case they ever need to go to court to prove their ownership. The Copyright Office allows users to perform a search for a song online or in person. Failure to find a record of copyright registration doesn’t necessarily mean the song is not copyrighted. In this case you would need to do additional research to be sure the song is not already under copyright protection.

Conduct a Search

Visit the Public Catalog section of the U.S. Copyright Office’s website. Select “Keyword” in the “Search by” field. Then type the name of the song in quotes in the “Search for” field, followed by a comma and the artist’s name to narrow down the search results. Press the “Begin Search” button on the bottom. Select the appropriate title from the search results list. The most relevant results for your search will display red bars in the “Relevance” column. You may have to check more than one result before you find the information you need.

Check for Copyright

Look for the “Copyright Claimant” field. This will tell you who the copyright holder is. The “Date of Creation” field tells you the copyright date. Use alternative methods to track down the owner if you don’t find a Copyright Office record. Consult the compact disc or album cover to find contact information for the publisher or distribution company. One of them can tell you the copyright owner or provide a resource for you to find him.

Tip

If the song was copyrighted before 1978, search in person at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC or pay $165 an hour for the Copyright Office to perform the search for you.

About the Author

Cynthia Tucker has been writing since 1999. She owns a company that specializes in ghostwriting and editing services. She writes on topics such as finance, fitness, relationships, self-help, and spirituality. Tucker holds a Master of Arts in Biblical studies from Saint Pete Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of South Florida.