Also check out these related CleverJoe articles:
Copyright Protecting Your Music For Use On The Web
Greetings my fellow Canadian music industry types! It is I, Austin Smith,
Clever Joe's faithful songwriting servant (which is kinda weird, you know?
To be a servant to a cartoon character...now I know how Matt Groenig and Mike
Judge feel.) Anyway, I once again must apologize for my lengthy absence,
but as I've grown fond of saying, life's funny sometimes. It went down like
I was having this incredibly strange dream in which I was dressed in a
huge chicken outfit, arm wrestling Gordon Lightfoot in a kiddie pool filled with
green Jell-O, when I woke up to find that I was actually dressed in a huge
chicken outfit, arm wrestling Gordon Lightfoot in a kiddie pool filled with
green Jell-O!!! You can imagine my surprise! (Gord was surprised as I was...)
O.K., so I made all that up. (Apologies to Mr. Lightfoot.) The point is
that I'm back here with my ol' pal CleverJoe, and I'm here to talk about the
music business. More specifically, songwriting.
After my last column, entitled
"Songwriting, Music Publishing, and Other
Anomalies," I received lots of e-mails from folks with questions about
various aspects of this business of songwriting. Since the questions that
some of you posed were ones that anyone interested in
pursuing a career in songwriting has at one time or another asked themselves,
I thought it would be a good idea to address some of those questions in this
column. Sound good?
All right, here we go...
Protecting Your Music and Copyrights On The Web
One e-mail I got was from a writer whose band was looking into putting
of their songs on their own website. One of his bandmates was concerned
about the possibility of someone ripping off their songs if they put them out
over the Web like that, into infinity. He wanted to know if the band should
'copyright' the songs first, not put them on the Web at all, or what?
Well, I gotta tell you. I think this is a great question and one a lot of
people have pondered since the Internet became such an integral part of our
culture. It can be a great promotional tool, but it has also opened up a
brand new can of potential copyright infringement worms.
First off, from
reading the last column
I wrote for Clever, you know that as soon as you
finish a song and write the lyric down on paper, you own the copyright by
simple virtue of the fact that you wrote it. In other words, you don't have
to register a song with any copyright office in order to own the copyright on
the song. HOWEVER, (and this is a big 'however'), if you ever have to prove
that you wrote the song first, you'll probably need something more than your
lyric scribbled on a bar napkin; even if you have written your name, the
copyright symbol, and the year at the bottom of it. It's all about proof.
An excellent resource for
musicians who want to protect their music. Covers many common misconceptions about registering copyrights, co-ownership of songs, etc.
There are a few different ways of establishing proof of copyright.
Some of you may have heard of the "poor man's copyright," which I used once
myself when I first started writing songs. It used to be the most popular
method of establishing proof of ownership of a song among starting-out
songwriters, probably because it doesn't cost much. The poor man's copyright is
when you record a song (or songs) on a tape, seal it in an envelope, and mail it
to yourself via registered mail. Because it's registered mail it gets an
official post office seal on it, complete with the date. The theory is that
as long as the seal with the date on it is never broken (i.e., as long as you
never open the envelope), then obviously the song inside the envelope was
written before the date on the post office seal. I DO NOT recommend this
method of establishing proof of copyright ownership. Over the years since
people first started doing it, it has been put to the test in court and
hasn't held up that well. Bottom line -- there are other, more effective
ways of establishing proof of copyright.
I've read that a good method of establishing proof of copyright ownership is
to, as soon as you've written a song, play it for people. Friends,
acquaintances, business associates -- anyone who would stand up in court and
be a witness for you, saying "Yes, I heard Jimmy-Joe play this song on_____
date." Apparently, witnesses are a good thing.
I recently called the Nashville Songwriter's Association International
(N. S. A. I.) and asked them some questions on this subject of proof of copyright.
I know they would welcome your calls, too. Their telephone number is:
The Songwriter's Association of Canada is also a great
organization to look into:
Songwriters Association of Canada
Anyway,when I spoke with N.S.A I. on the subject, they gave me the rundown on
registering songs with the copyright office in Washington, DC, which I
believe anyone can do, American or Canadian. Ottawa, Ontario has a similar
copyright office for Canadians.
The deal at the Washington
office, according to N. S. A. I., is that for a $30 fee you can register
either one song (on cassette), or a volume of songs. I'm not sure how many
songs you're allowed to have in one volume. (You must call them first and
request the appropriate forms to fill out, which you then send in with your
money and cassette.) I've heard that you can also, on the form you fill out,
put one title at the top, and under it write the lyrics to a bunch of songs,
thereby registering copyright on a group of lyrics for the price of one
title. (I've never done this myself, however, so if you want to find out for
sure, you should call them.
- The Copyright Office in Washington is 202-707-3000.
- The Federal Information Center is 800-688-9889.
United States, registering your songs this way is the highest level of
recognizing ownership of copyright there is, but at $30 per song, you can see
why most people (indeed, even most publishing companies) don't register every
song they have in their catalog. It would be really expensive with the sheer
numbers of songs involved. It would also be pointless, as most songs in most
publisher's vast catalogs won't get cut and be exposed to the public, and
therefore won't be in any danger of being ripped off.
One final thought on this business of proof of copyright. Do songs get
ripped off? Yes. Does it happen a lot? No, not as often as people seem to
think. When it does happen it's usually after you've had that huge #1 smash,
and everybody's humming your tune (and certain types of people figure the
song's made a lot of money and therefore target you in some bogus 'easy
money' lawsuit, claiming you ripped them off. Certainly if you release an
album, or have a song that looks like it's going to be on the radio --or
maybe the Internet -- then take the maximum protection approach and register
your songs with the copyright office.)
A valuable tool to understanding the music publishing industry. Set your goals, take the steps and you never know where yer boots will take ya!
The fact of the matter is, if you're
gonna try and 'make it' in this business you have to get out there and get
your songs heard by people. A lot of people. So, bite the bullet. Keep all
your worktapes and lyric sheets (along with dates of creation) on file,play
your songs for a few witnesses, maybe even register a few in Washington, but
then forget about it! If you let the fear of being ripped off rule your
creative life you'll never make it out of the basement. Take a few
appropriate steps to protect yourself, then get out there in the world, play
your songs, and see what happens. Otherwise, you'll never know what future
greatness you could be depriving the world of!
O.K., sorry if that was long. (People say I tend to ramble...I think even
Gord said that...) Anyway, on to the next question
about music publishing:
How To Get A Music Publisher
Austin tells you how to go about getting a good music publisher.
Austin Smith is trekking down the songwriter's path
in Nashville, Tennessee. Austin will be contributing regular articles to Cleverjoe's until
he finally gets that elusive recording contract, at which point we hope he won't forget
the little people.
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