Let’s just start by saying the US copyright office needs to hire better web developers.
I just went through the painstaking process of their electronic filing system. Although it has been updated over the years, the website looks and functions like it was built in 2003. It is not intuitive whatsoever and riddled with errors and confusing indicators and language.
Why do you want to copyright your songs? Well, remember when Marvin Gaye’s kids sued Pharrell and Robin Thicke because “Got To Give It Up” had a similar groove to “Blurred Lines?” Utterly laughable. Until they won $7 million. The only way you can bring a suit against someone you think plagiarized your work is if you officially register the copyright with the US Copyright office. So do it for your kids’ retirement!
As of March 2019, you can no longer register ALL of your unpublished works for $55 like you once could.
Now they limit you to 20 (unpublished) songs at a time for $85. So this can save some money. BUT, and this is a big Kardashian but, this only works if the same people wrote every song and own the masters. You CANNOT select this option if you’ve already released the songs. More on this in a sec.
Yes, the Copyright office says it must be 10 unpublished works, but there is an exception for “sound recordings.” So if you own the sound recording and the composition (like you wrote the song and are releasing it yourself – not on a label) you can register up to 20 songs for $85.
Don’t believe me? Watch this video the Copyright office put together.
I’m going to step you through exactly how to do this. Even though I’ve done this many times in the past, I STILL had to write in to support because I received errors on a couple uploaded files. But don’t worry, they’ll get right back to you – in 5 f’in business days. Yay government.
What I’m going to step you through is how to register songs that the same people wrote and these same people own the recordings. Like a band. Or like just you, yourself.
Meaning, if you co-wrote some of the songs and not others, those have to be registered separately. And if you are releasing these on a label or with a band, those have to be registered separately.
This cost-saving process (20 songs for $85) only works if all songs are written by the same person (or people).
These songs can NOT have been released yet. You have to do this BEFORE you release this album.
If this is the case, onward march!
First, go to copyright.gov
Click Register a Copyright
Click Log in to the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System. If you don’t have an account, you’ll need to register one.
On the left hand side click Register a Group of Unpublished Works under Other Registration Options
On the next page select Sound Recording for Type of Work
***NOTE: If you only wrote the song and are NOT releasing this yourself (another artist or label is), you would select Work of the Performing Arts. But since you wrote the song AND own the master recording, you can select Sound Recording – which covers both copyrights. 2 in 1!
On the next page select New.
For Title of this work, this will be the title of the first song you’re registering.
Keep repeating this process until you finish all of your unpublished songs (up to 20).
Put the year of completion. If you wrote these songs over a few years, but the year you completed the most recent song – most likely this year.
Put your name if you wrote it. You’re going to select “Unpublished Sound Recordings and Musical Works” since you own both the sound recording and the composition. Remember, all songs in this “group” need to have the same authors who own BOTH the sound recording and the composition (“musical work”).
If this isn’t the case, you need to register a separate application, per song, as a “Standard Application”
Repeat this for all the people you want to register here. Remember, every person must have written the song and own the master (“sound recording”).
The next screen will ask if there are any songs that have been previously registered (on this album). If so, you can put that info here. Or just skip it.
Add in your contact info so they copyright office can get in touch with you if needed.
Then add your address so they can mail you the certificate.
You can skip this next page unless you need an expedited review of your registration – it costs $800 though.
The next page is legal language that is basically saying that you’re not registering a Kanye West song or something.
This is a good time to remind you that you can only register a song that you wrote 100% and that all elements in the recording you created 100% yourself (or with a producer who created it from scratch). If you used any samples, you don’t own this 100% and you must register it as a derivative work and get permission from the artist or label to use the samples. If you bought beats for your song, it’s a little risky because you have no guarantee that the producer didn’t sell the same beat to a bunch of people. So you should get something in writing from the producer that everything they created for you is 100% original and only made for you – no one else.
The next page is where you review everything is correct. Click Add to Cart.
Then hit Checkout.
I selected Pay – Credit Card / ACH
If you want to pay by credit or debit card skip the first section and just put your info on the bottom. If you want to pay from your bank account you put that info at the top and skip the credit card section.
Put your email in there, check the box and click Submit Payment. (See that tiny button at the bottom?? – Yeah I missed it too).
Even though you just paid YOU’RE NOT DONE YET!
Then FINALLY, you get to the upload screen where you can upload your 20 songs. They accept mp3s, m4as, etc. Make sure the files are small enough. Don’t upload huge wavs or AIFFs. I’d like to tell you what the file size limitations are, but, alas, that link is broken on their website. Of course it is!
Oh, once you upload the songs you can’t remove or edit them. So make sure you’re uploading the right ones. I got a few error messages – not sure why – I wrote in to ask. But you can click the green button on the right side to submit them.
Then you’re done!
This took way too long to do and is way too complicated for what it is. The US government should really enlist a tech company to rebuild and redesign this site. But until then, hope this helps!
You’re now protected more than the 22 year old sealed letter with the cassette tape in it locked in your basement vault containing your high school band’s first demo.