Copyright protection begins automatically as soon as a song is created and fixed in a tangible medium (such as a compact disc). Nevertheless, many artists decide to take the additional step of registering their songs with the United States Copyright Office. This allows the artist to bring a claim for copyright infringement should the need arise. You can search for registered songs using the United States Copyright Office records.
For Songs Registered From 1978 to Present
Navigate to the United States Copyright Office website. Click the "Search Records" tab at the top of the website. Click "Search the Catalog" under the "Online Records" heading.
Click "Set Search Limits." Select "Music" if you are searching for the musical composition (i.e. the sheet music) of the song or "Sound Recording" if you are searching for the actual recording of the song . Note that you can also select "Sound Recordings and Music" to conduct a search for both.
Click "Set Search Limits." Select the search criteria (i.e. the title of the song, name of the artist, etc.) from the "Search by" box and type the accompanying information in the "Search For" box.
Click "Begin Search." Any songs matching the criteria will appear on the "Public Catalog" screen.
For Songs Registered Prior To 1978
Navigate to the United States Copyright Office: Search Request Estimate website.
Fill out the Search Request Estimate form and click "Submit." The form will be received by a staff member who will conduct a search based on the information you supplied. Note that the staff charges by the hour. Thus, the more information you supply in the form, the better. If you would rather conduct a manual search at no cost, continue to the next step.
Visit your local library and ask to view the Catalog of Copyright Entries. These entries were printed by the Copyright Office from 1891 to 1978. However, not all of the information is recorded in the catalog. The only free alternative is to visit the Library of Congress at the address below and conduct your own manual search.
Library of Congress Copyright Office–IRD Records Research and Certification Section 101 Independence Avenue SE Washington, DC 20559-6300 fax: (202) 252-3485 tel: (202) 707-6850
Online legal document providers often have copyright search engines or can help you conduct a copyright search.
Thomas King is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law where he served as managing editor of the "Pittsburgh Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law." He currently lives in Aberdeen, Washington where he writes and practices law.