Music Industry Myths to Avoid: The Poor Man’s Copyright

Poor man's copyright

A challenge for today’s independent musicians is dealing with is the avalanche of misinformation that is thrown their way. In this series we will address a few of the myths that have withstood the test of time. This article will address one of the oldest: The Poor Man’s Copyright.

What Is a Copyright?

A copyright is the legal protection that is provided to the owner of intellectual property. Intellectual property can include things like books, pictures, paintings, movies, and of course music. Music has the distinction of having two copyrights. According to the US Copyright Office, copyright is automatically awarded when the creative work is affixed to a physical form. In other words, you can’t just think of the song, you have to write, compose or record the song.

Having your work affixed into a physical medium is not enough to receive the full protection of the copyright. In order to enjoy all of the benefits provided by US copyright law, you must register your works with the US Copyright Office. One of the most important benefits provided by copyright is the ability to bring a legal claim in court against anyone who infringes on your rights.

What is the Poor Man’s Copyright?

Over the years, many people tried to circumvent the registration requirement, by mailing a copy of the work to themselves. The idea behind this rumor is that the Post Office’s postmark is enough evidence to prove ownership. Although the logic appears to make sense, the law is very clear in that the only way to bring suit is by registering the work with the copyright office (read more at their FAQs).

Some may argue that the poor man’s copyright is enough to protect their works. The truth is that you cannot bring suit if your work is not properly registered. So how do you register your work? The US Copyright office offers an electronic option to register your works. Fees often change, currently they range between $45 and $125. Standard registration fee is currently $65. You can also elect to use a third party company to register your works on your behalf. We recommend Cosynd because they not only make the process easy, they do so at a fair price.

Recently the Copyright Board took steps to make filing claims easier and more accessible to independent artists. However,  even with those changes, proper registration is still required to file a claim. So, if you are going to take the time to write, record, distribute and promote your songs, why not take an extra step to protect them?

See our other publishing administration services here.

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