Ever since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) came out, there seems to be a common misconception that anything posted online is automatically copywritten and fully protected. While online content does have some level of inherent protection thanks to the DMCA, it doesn’t automatically cover everything as some people believe, and there are additional steps that should be taken to ensure that legal compensation can be obtained if someone steals one of your songs. Likewise, it’s also important to make sure you’re not violating any copyrights yourself, especially if you’re going to be distributing the project commercially. With that said, here are the key steps involved in protecting your music:
1. Obtain Proper Licensing
This step won’t be necessary all the time, but when you’re producing or recording a song that was originally written by someone else, or if you’re using samples from other songs, it’s important to get your licensing cleared beforehand. Fortunately, there are many full-service song licensing services that can help you with this – otherwise, it can become a real hassle to have to manually clear every sample yourself. This is an important preliminary consideration to make, as failing to obtain the proper licensing could result in legal and financial repercussions later.
2. Use a Brand Trademark
Before you start focusing on protecting individual songs and albums, it’s a good idea to start by protecting the brand of your artist name or label that you’re going to be operating under. You can easily submit a trademark application or find out if your desired name has already been trademarked by visiting uspto.gov. This is one of those bases you’ll want to cover in the beginning, as you don’t want to be sued for using someone else’s trademark in the future.
3. Copyright Your Projects Before Promotion
Copyrighting your music is a lot cheaper and easier than you might expect, as you can copyright an entire album for just $35. If you’re a producer or singer/songwriter you’ll want to copyright both the composition/lyrics itself, as well as the actual song – the recording or finished product. You can take care of this independently or let a service take care of it for you, but either way, it’s definitely a necessary step any time you’re getting ready to release a commercial music project.
4. Have an Attorney Review any Contracts
Even if you’re confident in your ability to comprehend the contract, it’s still a good idea to let an attorney review it and provide their insight before you make your signing decision. This step will ensure that you’re not being slipped an unfair deal that could have you paying later, either financially or by losing rights to your music.
Finally, all artists and producers should sign up to become a member of ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, as well as platforms like SoundExchange. This will ensure that you’re properly credited and paid for any royalties that are generated by your song at any time in the future.