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Copyright Protection

You’ve written this great song, and now you want to put it out there for all the world to hear. Do you need to register the copyright first? 

The good news is, your song’s music and lyrics are protected by copyright as soon as you record them in some way – even if it’s just a rough recording on your cell phone. But to get the full benefit of copyright protection, including the right to sue people for infringing your copyright, you must register it with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Song Copyright Law Basics


Copyright law explains how to copyright songs. You can copyright music, copyright lyrics, or copyright both. You may copyright a new song or a new version or arrangement of an existing song. The song must be your original work, meaning that it must have been created by you and must show some minimal amount of creativity. 


You can’t copyright a song title or a chord progression. If you make an audio recording of your song, you may copyright in the sound recording in addition to your copyright in the song itself.

A music copyright is actually a bundle of separate exclusive rights. When you copyright songs, you have the right to:

  • Make and distribute copies of the song on sheet music, records, tapes, CDs and certain digital media. You also have the exclusive right to make and distribute the first sound recording of the song. Once the first recording has been distributed, other people can make and distribute additional recordings, but they must obtain a mechanical license for the song and pay you a royalty fee. If someone wants to record the song onto a video or motion picture, they must obtain a synchronization license.

  • Prepare derivative works, including new arrangements. 

  • Perform the song and authorize others to perform it. If someone else wants to play your song for an audience, they must obtain a public performance license and pay you royalties. This applies whether the song is performed live or played on radio, television, over the internet or on a music streaming service. 

  • Display the song.

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