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US: song protection


newguy_dup1

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Hi - I'm going to bring some originals to a studio, and in case they're as good as I feel about them (doubtful, of course, but hey, crazier things have happened), I'd like to protect myself against someone later claiming them as their creation.

 

I have the ASCAP website. If I follow their instructions, I guess I have legal proof that they are mine. I suppose someone could always look at my Cubase files for supporting evidence, though of course their timestamps can be altered by people smarter than me.

 

Does anyone have other suggestions to help prove creatorship in the unlikely event this would ever need to be done? I thought of maybe posting them on the web somewhere, but that will maybe create more problems than they solve.

 

Thanks for any advice!

Alexis
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Griff is right on, of course. Use US Copyright Office to secure your copyright.

 

Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP are there to help you once your songs are being performed in public, either live in clubs or on radio/TV. Theoretically they send you a check based on how many times your songs were performed. In reality you get a check based on a sample of what was played. If your name doesn't come up in the sample you still get a few pennies.

 

Briefly, then, here's what you need to do.

1. Make your recordings at the studio.

2. Register your songs & recordings with the US Copyright Office.

3. Play your songs in public. (Book a show or play an open mic.)

4. Register your publicly performed songs with a PRO (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC in the US).

5. (Optional) Find someone to shop your songs if you wouldn't mind a recording artist to release your song or for your recording to be used in a movie, etc. (The easiest service is probably TAXI, but you have to pay an annual fee.)

6. Write more songs and repeat!

 

In the meantime you should read a book about songwriting and the music industry. Even "Songwriting for Dummies" is good. Check out your local bookstore or shop online. Knowledge is your friend.

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Griff is right on, of course. Use US Copyright Office to secure your copyright.

 

Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP are there to help you once your songs are being performed in public, either live in clubs or on radio/TV. Theoretically they send you a check based on how many times your songs were performed. In reality you get a check based on a sample of what was played. If your name doesn't come up in the sample you still get a few pennies.

 

Briefly, then, here's what you need to do.

1. Make your recordings at the studio.

2. Register your songs & recordings with the US Copyright Office.

3. Play your songs in public. (Book a show or play an open mic.)

4. Register your publicly performed songs with a PRO (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC in the US).

5. (Optional) Find someone to shop your songs if you wouldn't mind a recording artist to release your song or for your recording to be used in a movie, etc. (The easiest service is probably TAXI, but you have to pay an annual fee.)

6. Write more songs and repeat!

 

In the meantime you should read a book about songwriting and the music industry. Even "Songwriting for Dummies" is good. Check out your local bookstore or shop online. Knowledge is your friend.

 

Thank you Griffinator and Eric!

 

Eric - Re: your steps 3 and 4 above - does that registering the publicly performed song mean I have to prove somehow that it was performed in public, e.g., with an audio/video recording, or something else somehow? And, why is it important that it be performed in public if steps 1 and 2 are taken? I guess what I mean is, I can see how it would help prove that it's mine, but could I still do that without steps 3 and 4?

 

Thanks much for the help!

Alexis
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Eric - Re: your steps 3 and 4 above - does that registering the publicly performed song mean I have to prove somehow that it was performed in public, e.g., with an audio/video recording, or something else somehow? And, why is it important that it be performed in public if steps 1 and 2 are taken? I guess what I mean is, I can see how it would help prove that it's mine, but could I still do that without steps 3 and 4?

 

Thanks much for the help!

The PROs collect royalties based on public performance and give them back to the songwriters. If your songs aren't being played out then there's no need to get them involved.

 

I don't think the PROs need proof, but check into this for yourself.

 

You can certainly skip steps 3 & 4. A lot of songwriters will make simple demo recordings, e.g. vocals and piano, and then go straight to the song shoppers.

 

If you are a singer/songwriter, though, and plan to perform your own music, then you'd want to join a PRO.

 

Sorry I wasn't more clear.

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Steps 3 and 4 are only necessary when you get to the point where you expect to actually get royalties from someone else playing or recording your compositions.

 

As soon as you fix your composition in ANY fixed medium, such as writing it or recording it, you have an implicit copyright. But if you are the first to *register* the copyright for that material (step 2), you're assumed in court to be the originator, and anyone who wants to fight it has to prove otherwise.

 

For more info about copyrights, see a brief summary I wrote a few years ago (so the prices are wrong, but the law is still the same):

 

http://learjeff.net/tips/copyright.html

 

 

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What about uploading an mp3 of the song to your website? If subpoenaed the webhost could provide an upload date. Or email to yourself at a yahoo acct? This is untested in court as far as i know but could show earliest possession.

 

Theoretically it could work, but the safest thing to do is just pony up and register with the copyright office.

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Courts have been quite reluctant to easily accept "other" methods of showing earliest claim to a copyright - where there is a clear, simple, and relatively inexpensive method that has been legally accepted.

 

Meaning - if someone else registers the song with the Copyright Office - and you attempt to prove that you originated the sone before their registration - the onus of proof is totally on YOU. The court is not going to automatically subpoena the web site operator - you have to go through the legal manuevers to get a human being who is an authorized representative of the website's owner to testify IN COURT - and they have to know of their own knowlege that you posted the item at such and such a date. This may prove to be very expensive, when their lawyers try to delay the matter until you are willing to pony up the cost of flying them to the jurisdiction of the court, paying their expenses, etc.

 

Not sayin' it cannot be done - but saying that, when you are in court, the only sure winners are the lawyers. The court is going to not really care what it costs you to prove what you COULD have proven for $30 if you had sense enough to do it their way.

 

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