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Is My Music Intellectual Property?

Songwriter creating music which is intellectual property

Are you interested in producing music? Maybe you’ve wanted to become an audio producer for years and you’re finally getting your chance. Music brings us together and transcends many boundaries of culture. It animates and reimagines language and sound. However, before you start releasing tracks and sharing your art, it’s critical to understand how intellectual property rights work. Namely, you’ll need to know how to copyright each of your songs. But first, are you asking yourself, “What are intellectual property rights?”

What are Intellectual Property Rights?

Intellectual property rights are the rights that have been given to someone for a creation they make from within their minds. These rights usually give the creator of an idea exclusive rights over the use of their mental creation. These rights will also apply for a specific amount of time.

Although intellectual property rights are often associated with corporate business environments, they also play an important role in music production and the music industry as a whole. Singers, songwriters, music producers, and musicians can and do earn money through their artistic talents.

It’s relatively easy to copy and sell another person’s music on various platforms. Not to mention, music piracy is more common than ever before. Because of this, intellectual property rights are key. Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are critical for music producers who want to earn money in their trade.

An Overview of Music Law

Music law refers to various legal aspects of the music and entertainment industry. The music industry can include record labels, music producers, music publishers, artists, and live events. This can include aspects of creative artistic law like intellectual property law. Intellectual property law covers copyright law, trademark law, image publicity rights, and design rights, to name a few.

What is a Copyright?

A copyright is a form of intellectual property. It gives the owner of an idea the exclusive right to copy and distribute their creative work for a set amount of time.

How Copyrights Work

For music producers and artists, copyright protection lets you guard your work. It can be used to protect a melody, lyrics, or fully finished track. Copyrights can last a lifetime and in the event of your death, sixty additional years can be added on to your copyright.

Intellectual property rights give you security. They help you ensure that your work can’t be copied without authorization. Broadcasting and distribution are also prohibited without express permission.

Essentially, copyrights are important because they protect you. They can be added to songs, sounds, and video recordings. This is important for producers, musicians, and audio engineers who want to make money in their trade. Copyrights prove ownership and protect you from having your work stolen and redistributed.

What are Trademarks?

If you’re making albums, recording a band, artist, or group, you will want to know how to use trademarks. Trademark protection in the music industry is the protection of a phrase, design, logo, or even a specific word. This protection is useful for brand names, logos, band names, and lyrics.

If you use a logo for an album, for merchandising, or as a form of branding, you can trademark your image to protect yourself from intellectual property theft. For trademarks to be used, a logo or design must be directly and frequently associated with a song or musician. You can learn more about trademarks later, as it is associated with visual art more than with audio recordings. However, if you’re planning to eventually branch out and brand things, trademarks are important.

What Does This All Have to do With You as a Music Producer?

When you understand intellectual property rights, you can keep your work protected. In the music industry, this can prove to be critical. Without the intellectual property rights to your music, others can sell and redistribute your work and profit from it. You may have your work stolen and be powerless to protect yourself. However, once you have properly protected your intellectual property with trademarking, copyrights, or patents, you can pursue legal action against anyone who is attempting to steal or distribute your work without your permission.

For a music producer, copyright laws are the most important aspect of intellectual property. Publishing is the main way to profit from your recordings. If you don’t have a copyright on a song and are publishing as an artist, you won’t be able to control your profits. Imagine having to buy back the rights to your songs.

Many artists don’t control their publishing rights. This is why you see a lot of older bands playing reunion tours. Their studios or record labels own their publishing rights. In today’s ever-growing digital world, copyright laws are critical to your success. They protect you as a creative artist. In the past, the artists were more concerned with building a following and creating classic hits. If only they had known how copyright law worked.

How to Copyright Your Music to Protect Your Intellectual Property

 So, now you understand why you need to protect your intellectual property. Armed with the facts, you’re ready to copyright your creative property. Your songs will automatically be protected as soon as you record them in some format. Even a rough recording on your phone will count. However, to reap the full benefits of a copyright, you’ll need to register with the U.S. copyright office.

Here are Some of The Basics That You Will Want to Understand

You can copyright lyrics, music, or both together. You can also copyright a new song, track, or a version of an existing song. Keep in mind that a song must be your personal and original work. You can’t copyright songs that someone else already has the copyright on. You also can’t copyright a song title or chord progression. However, if you have created an audio recording, you can copyright the song itself. This means having a copyright on the music and lyrics. If there are no lyrics, you can copyright the full song as it would be played out as a whole. This will include chords and melody together. Having full music copyrights will usually involve a bundle of exclusive rights to a piece as a whole. Copyrights give you the right to:

  • Make and distribute copies
  • Prepare specific derivative works
  • Perform a song
  • Display a song
  • Win in court if someone steals your work

How to Copyright Your Songs

If you’re ready to copyright your song, here are the steps to completing the task. With this copyright completed, you will retain ownership and not allow anyone else to profit off your songs.

Step #1: Record the Song in a Tangible Medium

You will need to record your song in some way. Having it in your head does not give you the right to it. You can record a song by writing the lyrics and sheet music, or record it in a digital format.

Step #2: Register an Account on the U.S. Copyright Office Site

Next create an account and electronically register your song. You can also register by mail, but electronic registration is now cheaper, faster, and easier. To register for an account, you simply go to and click “register a copyright.” You will then log into the eCO area. This is how you can log on to an existing account or register as a new user. If you’re going to write a lot of music, it will be important for you to become familiar with this website.

Step #3: Complete the Copyright Registration Application

Access and complete a copyright registration form. Carefully follow all of the instructions on these forms.

Step #4: Pay the Registration Fee

Pay this fee online with a card, bank account, or wire transfer. Basic copyright registrations range from $35-$85. Online, it usually costs $35. Keep in mind that you may make money on the song you wrote and having the copyright on it is critical.

Step #5: Send a Copy of Your Song to the Copyright Office

In some cases, you can upload your song digitally. Otherwise, you can mail in a copy of a recording or send in sheet music with lyrics. The website will tell you how many copies you have to submit and in what format.

Step #6: Patiently Wait for the Registration Process to Finish

Processing times can vary, but generally, electronic processing will be completed in a few months. Make sure the work is not available where it can easily be stolen or pirated while the registration processes.

The good news is, you’ve taken the steps toward proving that you have the creative and copyright authority with your song. If anyone steals your work, you can prove it.

Final Thoughts

Now you know what your intellectual property is and how to protect it. For music producers, audio engineers, and artists, copyright law is important. You want to prove that you own the rights to your music. While the actual copyright process can take some time, in the end, owning the rights to your music is critical to profiting in your respective field.

Audio Production Program

The Audio Production and Engineering Program  at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

At the end of the Audio Production and Engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.