I'm super new to this and I've written some songs that people have suggested I record. How do I get them published/copy-written? Does anyone have any good resources, URL's, plain old fashion advice for how to start this process? Are the songs that get posted on this sight copy-written first? I would appreciate any info... thanks. LJ

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Well... it's complicated, but... as soon as you create something, you have the "copyright" on it, and from that moment on, it's up to you to decide how far you want to go to protect that copyright. In terms of what will stand up in a court of law (like, if you were suing somebody for "stealing your song,") pretty much the only thing that's going to do the job is if you registered the song with the Copyright Office (assuming you're in the U.S.). "Poor man's copyright" (sending yourself a registered letter and not opening it) will not hold up in court, nor will posting it to this site or anywhere else.

"Publishing" the song is a different thing from copyrighting it; "publishing" means getting some music company to agree to take your song and make recordings, release sheet music, etc. Find a copy of the Songwriter's Market for info on how to go about convincing a music company to publish your song. Or you can "self-publish," i.e., make your own recordings, post chord charts, etc. If a music company publishes your song, they will probably want you to assign the copyright to them and then in return they'll agree to pay you some amount based on how the song is used. If you self publish, that is not the same as copyrighting the song.

You mention that you're "super new" to this (songwriting). Every musician has friends who will tell you, "hey, that's really good, you should get it published.' My suggestion would be to post a couple of your songs (make a rough recording if you can, but at least post the lyrics) to the Songwriter's Circle group here and see what sort of feedback you get from there. Based on the feedback you get from there, decide whether it's worth the $30 (is it $45 now?) to register a bunch of your songs with the copyright office and proceed from there.

There ARE a bunch of websites that will let you post original worship songs; some of them say they'll pay you royalties if enough people pay to download and use your song; some of them are just places to put songs in the hope that worship leaders will see them. If you sense that people ARE starting to use your songs in their worship, you can register as a songwriter with CCLI and ask people to report their use of your song, and you may even get a check in the mail now and then. The market for worship music is huge, but, fortunately or unfortunately, the number of people writing worship music is also huge...

It's a complicated process, and my suggestion would be to start out by just posting a couple songs here to try to get some objective feedback on how good they are, really. And then based on that, decide whether you want to try to turn this into a profession or not.
Wow! Thanks so much. I'm not thinking of a profession in song writing, I've sort of been dragged into this kicking and screaming like a cranky two year old. I will look into what you said, again, Wow and thanks. LJ
Some good thoughts to start off the discussion, Charles. I know you've done a lot of research on this before, so thanks for jumping in. Personally all I've done with my own songs is register them through CCLI, and slowly I see churches starting to use them and report them. So far the only place sheet music or MP3's have been available for them has been on my pathetic personal website, so it just shows you that God can use anything.

Do you think that since I"ve been getting tiny royalty cheques from CCLI every six months for the past 5 years that it would be enough to protect my copyright? Just curious.
Well, the royalty checks by themselves wouldn't count for anything, since they presumably don't have the actual songs encoded on them in any fashion. If you provided sheet music / MP3s to CCLI when you registered the songs with them and somebody from CCLI was willing to testify on your behalf, that might count for something. But by the time you paid for somebody from CCLI to give a deposition to a lawyer and have that entered into the court case where you're suing the person who stole your song, you'd be kicking yourself for not having just registered the songs :-)

I mean, as I understand it, the basic thing with this whole copyright deal is that the Copyright Office provides a place where you can put your music so that at some later date, you can prove that as of the date you registered the song, you had it, and if you can prove that you're the person who had it first, then, legally, everybody else stole it from you. If I wrote a song in 1978 and I register it today, I can prove that I had it as of April 26, 2010 - but it doesn't prove that I had it in 1978. If somebody else heard my song in 1993 and registered it with themselves listed as the author, they had it first. Or if somebody wrote a very similar song in 1997 (even if I know they had heard my song) and registered it then, they had it first and my song is still a ripoff of their song. In the eyes of the law.

Here are some of the places I've come across where worship song writers can post their own songs. I'm not sure just how these sites work, but if somebody wants to make the rounds and post back info, there are places where you can post sheet music and MP3s for free...

http://www.worshipsong.com/home1.asp

http://www.holymeasures.com/

http://freepraiseandworship.org/

...and I'm sure there are many more, including many sites that are not specifically "worship music" or even "Christian" sites. And, of course, WtR lets you attach .mp3 files and scanned in sheet music and chord charts to posts, so you've got free hosting here, and a pretty good concentration of worship leaders looking at this site.

Charles
How do you register a song? It should be written out on sheet music, right?...actual notes on a staff with measures and all?

LJ
No, a recording of the song can be submitted, CDs are okay, and there are (can be) separate copyrights for the song itself and your performance of the song... like I said, it's complicated. Also, since the fee is $45 or something, it generally makes sense to submit a group of songs at once.

I s'pose I should also mention that, since the author owns the copyright as soon as they create a song, any recordings, sheet music, lyrics you hand out should contain a copyright notice - (c) 2010 LJ Phillips - whether your have registered that copyright or not. Obviously, you have no control over other people putting your lyrics up on the screen in worship without the copyright, but I've heard that if you, the author, don't include the copyright with every copy you distribute, it sorta lets the song slip into the public domain and once the proverbial horses are out of the barn...

I'm sure there are some people here on WtR who are very knowledgeable about copyrights, hopefully some of them will chime in soon...
CCLI sends more than a cheque; there's a reporting sheet showing how many times the song use was reported by churches in the different zones (US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, etc). They also post the lyrics, as you know, and on that page they show a copyright date based on the info you send in at the time of registering.

Yes, at the time of registration, a person sends in lyric, lead sheets, and even mp3s if available, but CCLI won't put them up until the song gets significant "air time" in the reporting process (a sore spot with me; how can people choose your song if they can't hear it or even find the lead sheet? That's fodder for a rant...!).

The downside to relying on CCLI would be if your song never gets used by a church. Then there's really not much of a record other than the fact that you (from all outward appearances) sent CCLI a bunch of lyrics which are posted publicly (but with no music, etc). Better than nothing I suppose.

Charles, have you had personal or annecdotal experience where a court didn't award a writer the rights to his song soley because it wasn't registered with the copyright office? I'm thinking of all these famous court battles between songwriters where one guy waited 38 years to claim his share of the copyright (see here: http://the1709blog.blogspot.com/2009/07/whiter-shade-of-pale-copyri...)

Then there's the famous George Harrison battle over the song My Sweet Lord (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Sweet_Lord)

Makes for interesting reading. But I think the main point is, why let it get to this place? Why not do the work of registration and keep things clean. Am I right?
I have no personal experience, and should admit that I've never actually sent any of my songs to the copyright office at all... and I'm sure there are cases where somebody won their case even though the song wasn't registered. Yeah, the only "good" reasons for not registering songs with the copyright office are laziness, lack of belief in yourself, all those things I suffer from :-)

On our theoretical CCLI discussion here, I wouldn't think it would matter whether your song had been used or not, CCLI would have a record of the date your song was registered with them, and the materials you provided at the time. But unless CCLIs interests were being threatened (somebody proved that they had written "God of Wonder" and were suing CCLI for sending royalty checks to the wrong person), I wouldn't count on CCLI getting too involved in your legal squabbles...

As I mentioned up above, I'm sure there are some people here who know a lot more about copyrights than I do, and it would be great to hear from them. There IS a group about copyright issues, although it's one of those cases where somebody showed up and said, "I know all about copyrights, let me help you.." and then being asked some of the tricky questions, were not heard from again... hopefully, I'm not spreading too much misinformation here...
Not to worry, Charles. I think you've got a lot of good points here, and they're worth considering.

Finding "experts" on this subject is difficult, to say the least. As much as I appreciate what CCLI does and was created to do, I have to admit that I've found them very difficult to get clear answers on, even on the way they themselves handle things within their own organization. But it's all we've got to work with (i.e. the church), so we muddle our way through.

In truth, I know of very few "stolen" songs, just as in my role as a writer and author I know of very few "stolen" stories. Within the setting of church music, my recommendation is write the song, test it on a few friends or the pastor, then if it passes muster present it to the church to be used by the Lord.

If it catches on, start a copyright owner account with CCLI. Beyond that, you're getting out of my league!
Thanks, Rick and Charles, I learned a lot from you guys. LJ
All of your info was so helpful. Thank you! LJ
Hey LJ!

I agree with most of everything people said on here. I will say, for me, I do pay the fee to copyright songs that I feel have some future potential or I know for a fact other churches are performing (ie: Lead Me To The Rock). It is an extra level of protection in the event you are listening to a CD some day by a big name label out there and say "hmmm, that song sound very familiar" ;-)

Welcome my friend!

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