If you are a musician or songwriter, the copyright law affects your craft, so it is important to have a basic understanding of it.
The term "copyright" really means that the creator has the right to copy. If an artist writes an original song, that artist is the owner of the copyright. As it pertains to artists in general, the copyright law basically grants the creator the right to (1) reproduce (e.g., make copies), (2) distribute (e.g., sell copies) and
(3) perform (e.g., play the song live).
Once the song is in a tangible form (i.e., written), the artist should take steps to protect the work. In essence, an artist needs to prove the date of creation. Actually, under the present copyright law, a work is copyrighted once it is written or recorded. However, it is best to have proof of creation. The best method is to obtain a registration form from - and register the copyright with - the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. To request the free registration form, the mailing address is: Register of Copyrights, Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559 (forms are also online). The fee is $45.00 per song. Another less sound technique is known as the "poor man's copyright", which consists of the artist simply enclosing a copy of the song in an envelope and sending it to the artist certified mail. The envelope should not be opened or it will spoil the purpose of securing the date.
It is also important to put the proper copyright notice on songs and recordings that are presented to the public, such as a demo. The copyright notice for songs and sound recordings must include three elements: the symbol © (for lyric sheet or sheet music) or (p) (for tapes, records, CDs), the year of publication and the name of the copyright owner.
A song can be a valuable commodity. It is imperative that any artist who wishes to be taken seriously - and not be ripped-off - do the things described above as a form of protection.