Although copyright attaches to original music as soon as it's written down or recorded, and to a musical performance as soon as it's recorded, musicians should register their works with the U.S. Copyright Office to secure the ability to bring copyright enforcement lawsuits against anyone who infringes on their copyrights. Registering the copyright for a music album is faster and cheaper than registering each song separately.
Locate the U.S. Copyright Office's online copyright registration, or eCO, feature on the upper right-hand column of the homepage of the U.S. Copyright Office webpage. Click on the words "eCO Login" to enter the electronic copyright filing site and begin your music copyright registration process.
Read More: How to Get a Copyright for a Mixtape
Register yourself as a user with the eCO system before you can proceed with your copyright registration. User registration requires completing your name, address, and other contact information where indicated on the screens.
Click on "Register a New Claim" in the left-hand menu, then on the gray box near the top of the screen that states "Start Registration." Select the type of work being registered from the drop-down menu box at the bottom of the screen. For a music album, select "Sound Recording," and then click on "Continue."
Click on the starred gray box that says "New" and type in the name of your album. Click on "Save" and then on "Continue." Indicate in the drop-down menu in the middle of the screen whether the work has been published or not, and then type in where indicated the year in which the work was completed. Click on "Continue."
Fill in the author's information including citizenship and residency. The "author" -- copyright law uses this term for the creators of all original creative works including music and art -- may be either an individual or an organization, such as a band or music publishing company. Click on "Continue," and then fill in the copyright claimant's information including name and address. For a musician registering the copyright on his own compositions, the claimant will be the same as the author.
Click "Continue" again, and you will be taken to a screen that allows you, if you so desire, to indicate a person to whom inquiries from the public may be directed regarding licensing your copyright. This may be an agent, attorney, band manager or recording studio. Click "Continue" and then fill in the name and address of the person whom the U.S. Copyright Office should contact regarding the copyright filing.
Click "Continue" and fill in where indicated the name and address of the individual to whom the copyright registration will be mailed, then click "Continue" again. Indicate if necessary any special handling requirements on the next screen, then continue on to certify that you are the copyright holder of the work being submitted for registration. Click "Continue" to review your application in its entirety.
Review your application information carefully, then click "Add to Cart" and proceed to checkout as with any online purchase. You will receive notice that you are leaving the Copyright Office website to make your payment, which you can make by bank account electronic transfer or with any major credit card. The general filing fee is $35.
After payment, you will return to an eCO screen to upload the audio files of your music album. Audio files in most major digital audio formats including .aif, .midi, .mp3, .rmi, .wav and .wma are accepted. Upload the files in one of these acceptable formats, and wait for indication that the upload and your submission are complete. You can also register through the eCO system and mail in a hard-copy deposit -- CD or cassette tape -- of your album. Copyright registration is valid as of the successful submission of your application.
Search for potential copyright holders of all music for which you are not the songwriter; many songs which are assumed to be traditional folk music are actually more recent compositions subject to copyright protection.
Alternatively, you print out an application form from the U.S. Copyright Office website, fill it out and mail it to the U.S. Copyright office at Library of Congress, Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20559-6237. You can send a hard-copy deposit of your album on a CD or cassette tape. The general fee for registering by mail is $50.
A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.