According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work." (Ref. 1, FAQ #5 under "Do I have to register with your office....") Writing and recording the songs included on your album is a copyright in itself, but protecting your work from being used for someone else's monetary, promotional or entertainment gain without your approval requires extra effort. There are two ways to register your copyright: Online or by mail.
Register online with the U.S. Copyright Office by going to copyright.gov/eco. You will be required to create a user I.D., a password and provide contact information. (Ref. 2)
Click on the "Register a New Claim" link on the left-hand side of the page once you have logged on. Find this link under the "Copyright Service" heading.
Complete the steps in order of their listing on the page. The three steps are 1) filling out an online application, 2) submitting a $35 fee and 3) uploading your work. (Ref. 3, FAQ #5 under "What is the registration fee?")
Upload a copy of your music album. Several types of files, including .mp3, .wav, .wma, .ra, and .midi files are acceptable. The Copyright Office cautions that the system times out after a 60-minute session. If your music file requires more time, you will have to use more than one session, compress the audio files or break the files up into smaller deposits. (Ref. #4)
Registration By Mail
Go to copyright.gov/forms on the U.S. Copyright website and click on the link that reads "Form CO." As of 2010, you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader Version 8 or higher to read this file. (Ref. #6)
Download the form by clicking on "Download Form CO," located at the bottom of the page.
Print out the form and fill it out. Complete the form with black ink or type directly into the boxes. Put the form in a package along with a check or money order for $50. (Ref. #3)
Place a copy of your work in the package. Use a padded envelope or other protective packaging to reduce the chance of damage. The Copyright Office requires the "best edition' of your work for registration. CDs are the preferred form of deposit for audio recordings, but vinyl discs, tapes and cartridges are acceptable (Ref. #7, page 3)
Mail the package to the Library of Congress, U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Ave. SE, Washington, D.C., 20559-6237. The "6237" extension is used exclusively for sound recordings and can expedite your claim. (Ref. #2, page 8)