A copyright for an original instrumental is automatically created when the composition is either written down as sheet music or recorded on a CD or other format. A copyright gives the creator of a musical composition or arrangement exclusive rights to the work for a fixed period, usually the creator’s life plus 70 years. The copyright owner can prevent others from performing, reproducing or selling the composition without permission or mandatory compensation.
You don’t need to register a copyright, but registration has several benefits. You must register a copyright before filing an infringement lawsuit, and registration provides strong evidence of your ownership in court. Registration also allows you to get specific monetary awards allowed by U.S. copyright laws, rather than having to prove the amount of actual financial harm caused by the unauthorized use. You can register a copyright by obtaining the official forms from the United States Copyright Office. You can mail the completed forms or file them in person with the Copyright Office. On-line registration through the Copyright Office’s eCo registration system allows you to conveniently submit your registration application electronically. You must also submit your sheet music or sound recording for deposit to the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress.
A copyright for a composition gives you the right to make and sell the first sound recording of your instrumental. Copyright laws allow others to make subsequent sound recordings, but they generally must compensate the copyright owner when doing so. Such fees are determined by a mandatory federal licensing law. Specific questions about copyright laws and protection procedures can be answered by your attorney.
- U.S. Copyright Office: Copyright Basics
- U.S. Copyright Office: Copyright Registration for Musical Compositions
- U.S. Copyright Office: Copyright Registration for Sound Recordings
- U.S. Copyright Office: Copyright Registration of Musical Compositions and Sound Recordings
- Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute: 17 U.S. Code § 115
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