The Magic of Copyright by John Snyder

John Snyder is the founder and president of the Artists House Foundation, a nonprofit music company dedicated to creating educational presentations in several areas, including instruction for instruments, master classes, careers in the arts, and legendary performers

The following article is the beginning of your journey to self-reliance. Understanding your rights under the Federal copyright statutes is the first step towards creating revenue from those rights. In the articles that follow this, we will continue to drill down into the topic in coming weeks by exploring each right individually, its limitations and opportunities, how these rights can be made to produce income, and the agreements that govern those transactions. It’s a beautiful trip and you’ll love it, so, bon voyage! Feel free to comment and ask questions and tune in for our weekly webcast beginning at the end of August for more information and interaction.

The magic of copyright is simple: you render an original work in a tangible form, that work is copyrighted. Under federal copyright statutes you have, at that moment in time, six exclusive rights that attach to that work that you own. (That’s assuming you haven’t already somehow managed to sign away your rights.) The words “original”, “work”, “tangible”, “author” have definitions, rules and exceptions, but it’s pretty simple really: if you made it up and you made it real by writing it down or typing it in or recording it, it’s copyrighted and it’s yours.

The first two of those six exclusive rights are the right to copy and the right to distribute. That makes you a publisher or a record company or both. The right to control the public performance of your music makes you a radio station. The point is this is something that just happened to you. You really don’t have a lot to say about it: you are a business whether you like it or not. You have then two choices, run your business responsibly and successfully or not.

“What about mailing my song to myself”, you ask. Do not mail it to yourself! That is stupid (check the switch!). About the only thing that can do for you is become evidence in a copyright infringement suit, which you can’t even initiate until you register your copyright with the US copyright office anyway! You want to mail it to somebody? Mail it to them!

Just do it: go to the copyright office and register your work. (You can register a bunch of them on one form and save some money, since you’re broke.) You register to get the remedies for infringement and to be able to sue someone who’s used your stuff without your permission. You don’t register to get your rights, you already had those.

Got it? OK, you need to know generally more about “business” and specifically, you need to know more about how to make money from (i.e., monetize) the rights you have under copyright law. We’re going to tell you about that and we’re going to go over contracts, licenses, and agreements as well. Remember, the work is YOURS, so when you transfer it, license it, sell it, YOU are in control. If you have to make a bad deal because you need the cash or the exposure, at least you’ll know the trade-offs.

Our motto is: you didn’t know till we told you now we told you now you know. So, you’ll be hearing the phrase “now you know” a lot. What that means is: now you’re responsible; now it’s on you.

OK, I’m passing it on to George at this point, and he’ll take you through some specifics in the coming weeks. Remember this one last thing: copyright protection is in the Constitution of the United States, ratified by all thirteen original states in 1790. The roots of copyright go back hundreds of years before that. Article I of the Constitution lists the powers of the legislative branch of our government, of Congress. Protection of the creative work is one of the powers granted to the Congress. It comes right after the power to print money and before the power to declare war or sign treaties. THIS IS IMPORTANT! This means that your “work” is considered to be so valuable to the culture and the society that it is protected in the country’s founding document.

YOUR creativity is protected by the United States Constitution! You have the ability to create wealth from your imagination! And Federal laws give YOU exclusive rights that you can “monetize”. So, monetize them! You have great advantages as a musician, as an artist: you are naturally entrepreneurial, you understand method (you can create goals and make plans that achieve them – it’s call practicing!), and you can create wealth from your imagination. So, without even stirring a pot or buying a lottery ticket, you are a business, with assets that can generate revenue. That’s also called “rent money” and “food money”. How lucky are you? Now you know.

John Snyder
August 2, 2010

  • Gary Heath

    This is music to the ears :) sharing experience and knowledge and letting people realise they can take control of their own lives with the right knowledge. Thank you so much for this blog and i’m looking forward to the follow-ups as an indepentant artist – living (trying…) to live from music.
    I tip my hat to you and I’m sure many other artists will also appreciate your honest sharing :) cheers Gary from Switzerland (I’m English but Switzerland is my adoptive country :) keep the music real and alive :) G

  • Wazza

    John, love the article. I want more.

  • Jpkinney

    Great Read! Simple & to the point…

  • Sputnik

    I thought this was going to be information, not fluffy feel-good schlock with no content.
    Certainly the follow-ups will be lovely, but this is an insultingly pointless thing to lead off with.

  • Horace Moning

    Hi i have a record label and two demo,but what do i do to get started and how much,warm regards.

  • “Crunchy” Steve Jay (FKA B&Massa)

    Useful for US users of Tunecore, but there is no registration process in Australia other than APRA/AMCOSS and they require you to assign your rights. Worse that that, once they have you in their clutches, you can’t get out. If a radio or TV station uses a tune you haven’t registered with them, they still collect a royalty, even if the terms on the tune were free and public domain, and won’t let you access the royalties until you register the song with them.
    So, this is a good article for US users of Tunecore, but it’s bullshit in every other country in the world.
    Copyright is broken.

  • Diego Palma

    Horace, ask yourself what it is you want to do. Do you want to perform live or create a library of songs for your label? What you do next is up to you. Recording demos and performing live require two different skill sets. You can create in the studio and market you stuff online and via retailers, but will need to generate local notoriety and word of mouth (street cred) to help your product sell. It takes a lot of work and you have to roll with the changes and always be looking for opportunities. And you have to keep doing it for a long time. Years. All the while promoting, promoting. It takes more than a couple of demos, but you have to start somewhere.
    Good luck and I hope this sheds a little light on the subject.

  • Billy Clifton

    I am an experienced musician/writer/producer and have a self-proclaimed decent knowledge of copyrights and this is an excellent article to begin understanding the whole process. I can’t tell you how many idiots tried to tell me “just mail it to yourself and you are covered” DUH! Just copyright the stuff and roll on. But remember, copyright doesn’t cover song ideas so if you write a song called ‘Love Thing’ and someone hears it, and writes a hit called ‘Love thing’ you are just out of luck……

  • Rob Mazurek

    Great article, but You dont necessarily need to register your works with the Copyright office to initiate a copyright infringement suit, you only need to prove you created the works.-He overlooked the fact that once an artist offers their “original works” out on CD,MP3 (whatever format/Media) for public sale,it is “automatically copyright”.(Same goes with written literature) This is based on the fact that True Copyright ownership is concieved from the moment the works are created/completed. The Copyright Office merely helps to document Ownership.
    But for additional legal ease,its a safeguard to help actually document the copyright via the Copyright Office to simplify matters in the event of legal disputes over Copyright ownership. Any good lawyer will tell you though its not absolutely necessary.

  • Ron Evry

    There is a huge difference between the copyright on a composition, a recorde performance, and an arrangement. People have been successfully sued when recording a public domain song from the 19th century, because their arrangement was similar to a previously recorded one.

  • Patrick Reagin

    The importance of an understanding of the fundamental concepts of copyright are essential to any career in music. At the end of the day, this is the crux upon which all other aspects of the ‘music industry’ are built.
    From labels negotiating the right to produce copies of the work, to publishers administering compositions, to PRO’s collecting public performance royalties; everything comes back to the fundamental rights afforded at the moment that copyright is claimed.
    It’s an extremely easy task to complete and can be invaluable to your future success. $35 online right here: can save you an immense amount of trouble in the long run.

  • reginald vaughn

    Hi there,you have enlightened me further in my quest to do something more with the talents ive been blessed with,and now i know.
    I cant wait to read more inspired information that motivates a true artist.
    thank you so much,reggiev

  • Albert Huizeling

    I am from the Netherlands if I write a song and want to copyright it.
    I must send it to Buma /Stemra in the Netherlands.
    I need to put a music file mp3 from that song with it and I can upload it on my account on their website.
    So they can hear it if someone using that song of me if it is the same.
    If that is so then they can take action to protect my rights.
    If a song of me is spinning on the radio worldwide they said to me it goes automaticly in a datebank if radiostations have a playlist uploaded in that datebank.
    bigstations must do that.
    I don’t need to upload my written lyric just the song on mp3 and the songs name with my name behind it.
    That the way they do it in the Netherlands
    Albert Huizeling

  • Rob Spillane

    Can you tell me the bottom line on registering my work with ASCAP or BMI? I copyright my songs and under what circumstances must I join one of these orgs?
    Of course I want money if I submit a song to an opportunity so must I join? The crap you have to go through to write music and get paid seems neverending.

  • John I Umoru

    I love this write-ups because it greatly enlighten me and as an artist with my songs online I need to know more of these. Please do not forget to get the follow up on my mail. And, thanks for great job

  • Rene Labre

    In the US,if you decide to present yourself as professional you must obtain a copyright registration from the Library of Congress.At the bottom line you must demonstate “first use.”A court case may be able to be won without it but you will be paying a very high commission to an attorney to do it.The prices they charge for that have become nothing short of outreaguous from what was once 10 bucks.And it takes now almost a year to hear from them back to tell you they cannot used the materials you sent because of an antrax threat,so you MUST also send it via registered mail.Another 13 bucks to the government.So you have to start from square one again and pay the fee twice.If you are not a major label artist submitting a “a work made for hire” to a big corporation they could give a shit about you,they will make it as hard and as expensive as possible to register your work.They will be slow and indolent.I was mentored by a gentleman there,Ralph Gingery who taught me much about this as I ran the publishing arm of my first label.Expect asinine shoddy and careless service,expect it to be slow and expect them to go duh?Hang in there baby.

  • albert cabrera

    I still don’t understand why mailing a copy to yourself doesn’t work,copyright is about proof of date,If someone claims my copyrighted material and I have an unopened copy with a post mark and the Judge opens it and its my song and the date is sooner than the one that’s claiming the copyright how can that be argued?also these days computers record date created on music programs,I’d like to see someone claim a copyright,while the real copyright owner shows the recording session with date created and all parts to the song,emails announcing release,audio posts to sites that show dates, proof of release date with a distributer ,original album artwork,youtube posts and replies,facebook fan page,myspace fan page and the Judge rules sorry the one who copyrighted with our office wins!

  • Jarvis Moon

    Good information. I’m interested in learning more about the process of copyrighting my work if I intend to use Creative Commons. How would the process you outline above change?

  • Stefano

    What about italian rules? Thanks

  • Jesus

    I’m peruvian, is it posible for me to copyright an album in the US by email sending mp3s? so I can start selling in the US without trouble…anyone knows?

  • Bob Dee

    Anyone that produces [music] and decides to distribute it in any way, including selling your cds at gigs, tunecore, any public distribution or display (even on your own website or myspace page), without securing a copyright from the Library of Congress is just asking for trouble (i.e, an idiot!). It doesn’t cost that much, you can copyright a “collection” to save money, and I believe it can all be done online now too! So there’s really no excuse for NOT protecting your material. I know of lawsuits for un-copyrighted material and they’re hard to win. Unless you got lots of extra cash laying around for lawyers I’d opt for the sure bet of submitting your music to the Library of Congress and getting your “copyright number”. That way if something of yours is infringed upon it’s much easier to prove.

  • Janette

    Thanks for this article! Empowering individuals, and giving them a sense of their intrinsic value…and also of the responsibilities inherent with having this power/value …brilliant…Now YOU know!

  • Yanelle Dugar aka Unbelievable Jones

    Great article. Thanks for posting this, it takes heartache out of the way if you just copyright your songs and then you are able to create more with a peace of mind.