Recently I’ve encountered fellow artisans who casually mention the need for “copyrighting their material” before feeling safe. It’s important to follow-through with the process of registering copyrights with the Library of Congress, but I feel that my creative brothers have a fundamental misunderstanding.

You don’t need “to copyright” your creation. Don’t worry that it’s not protected unless you pay the government and send your papers to Uncle Sam. The copyright of a song or script or any piece of art exists when you create the material. Not when you have the idea, or when you tell the government about your idea, but when you set the idea into a fixed medium.

Take a song for instance. If I write it down as notation, the copyright exists from the time I put down the pencil. I don’t need to “copyright it.” I just need to document it’s existence with authorities so that I can prove I created it by a specific date. Proving existence of the copyright material by a certain date is getting easier all the time.

The Poor Man’s Copyright

A “poor man’s copyright” might sound like a good solution. PMC involves mailing the copyright material to yourself. Once you receive the letter or package with your material enclosed, it remains sealed and is government timestamped by the Post Office.
Postal Meter Marking

I don’t see the harm in this, but I wouldn’t bother either. Some simple searches will reveal that PMC is more myth than fact for US citizens. United Kingdom’s copyright office actually recommends this method, but in the United States PMC will not help much. Since your work is already copyrighted material, you’re not doing anything but establishing a date of existence. Want proof about this instant copyright concept? Check out “Circular 50” which mentions this law…. it’s been that way since 1978.

Copyright with The Library of Congress

What people often mean when they incorrectly say “I’m going to copyright this” is that they will notify the Library of Congress’ Copyright Office of their work’s existence. This is done via registration form and costs money. If you want to go completely legit and whole enchilada, you’ll need to register your copyright with the government. Here are direct links to the information you’ll need.
Libray of Congress – Copyright Office
Current list of copyright registration fees.

How to manage music copyrights.

The process is too detailed to recount here. There is a ton of information online. Read before you start the copyright registration process! For instance, a single piece of music has two copyrights! One for the song and one for the recording. You’ve got to register both to be completely legit and fully covered. Read more. Here’s a good place to start.

How to Register a Music Copyright

The bottom line… If you’ve created music and fixed it into notation or a recording, it already has a copyright. Register it when you have time and money but don’t worry about hiding it because you feel you have to obtain a copyright to protect your work.