Song Lyrics & Copyright Laws

By Josh Shear
Ian Gavan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The lyrics, or words, are one of the three parts of a song that receives a copyright. The two other parts are the musical accompaniment and the audio recording of the song.

Who Owns the Copyright

A woman writes song lyrics in a studio.

The person or people who wrote the song lyrics may lay claim to the copyright, unless specified under a contract as a work-for-hire, in which case the party doing the hiring owns the copyright.

Term of Copyright

A gavel and law books on a judge's bench.

In the case of a work-for-hire, the copyright extends for 90 years after the lyrics were first published, or 120 years after they were created, whichever comes first. Otherwise, the copyright extends for 70 years past the death of the last living creator.

Registering a Copyright by Mail

U.S. post boxes outside of a post office.

The registrant submits 2 copies of the lyrics, Form TX or replacement Form CO, and the appropriate fee to:

Library of Congress Copyright Office 101 Independence Ave. S.E. Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

Registering a Copyright Online

A woman clicks the mouse of her laptop.

The registrant visits the eCO section of the Copyright Office's website, completes fill-in Form CO, submits the appropriate fee, and uploads the lyrics in a common digital format, such as a dot-doc or dot-pdf file.

Licensing Lyrics

A business man listens to music on his smart phone while traveling on a train.

The copyright holder may license lyrics, or may authorize a representative to license the lyrics. The Harry Fox Agency handles licensing for many popular songs.

About the Author

Josh Shear began writing professionally in 1999. He has been an editor at Reminder Publications and project coordinator at the daily online news site syracuse.com. He received his Bachelor of Arts in English from Western New England College, and took graduate courses in mass media theory at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.