Dear Dr. ©:
A friend of mine said that I can copyright the songs that I write by sending them to myself using registered mail. That sounds easy. So, what’s the scoop?
Your friend has perpetuated one of the oldest “urban myths” (apart from that one about alligators in the sewers of New York…turns out that they were crocodiles, not alligators! Who knew?) Anyway… since the United States “acceded” to the Berne Convention (no, we did not attend and there was, sadly, no big party with lots of fondue, that’s just the name of the treaty) you get a copyright automatically as soon as your composition is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” (Copyright lawyer speak for written down, recorded, etc.) The copyright you get depends on whether you wrote the song as an employee or on your own. If your wrote it as an employee, then the copyright lasts 95 years. If it’s just on your own, then it lasts for your lifetime, plus another 70 years. The tricky part is that if you wish to enforce your rights in court, then you have to register your copyright (just like you must register your car if you want to drive it on a public road.)
To register a copyright, you just need to point your web browser at http://www.copyright.gov/eco/ and fill out the right form. For most folks, the form CO will work fine. You submit it with a fee of $55 and in a blink of an eye (well, as of this date, that blink takes the government up to 22 months) you get back your registration certificate. If you expect to file a lot of registrations, then it pays to use the eCO online system, which is less expensive ($35) and faster (6 months) but is more difficult to learn and use.
That’s all there is to it! If you have questions about copyrights, registrations and related matters, be sure to ask one of the attorneys at LW&H. They do this sort of thing every day.
— Lawrence Husick, Esq.