March 16, 2005 2:29 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to "quick copyright" a musical composition?

I have a student who will be submitting an original composition via CD and score to an American university in order to be considered for a scholarship. Is there something he can do easily to protect his work? For example, will mailing himself a sealed envelope with same before submitting do the trick for this? Anything else?
posted by taz to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
There's always just getting a registered copyright by sending it with the proper form to the copyright office. "Your registration becomes effective on the day that the Copyright Office receives your application, payment, and copy(ies) in acceptable form. If your submission is in order, you will receive a certificate of registration in 4 to 5 months."
posted by weston at 3:07 AM on March 16, 2005

I think that, in principle, any creative work like this is copyrighted by default -- the difficulty comes when you try and prove this in court. Hence the existence of copyright registration, and the idea of mailing the work to yourself to prove that it existed as of a given date.

On the former (from the US Copyright Office):

In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection.

And on the latter (from a random post found via Google)

Put it in an envelope, then in a bigger envelope, and then in another envelope, and seal all of them. Make three packages with copies of all of this in it. Then mail one to yourself, one to a family member and one to a friend you trust dearly, and tell them not to open it. Then take your package when it arrives in the mail, and put it in a safe deposit box. THEN, take the box key and mail it to yourself.
posted by chrismear at 3:09 AM on March 16, 2005

From what I've researched, the composition is automatically copyrighted from the moment it is "fixed in [a] tangible medium of expression."

If the student is submitting the composition from outside the US (Greece?) but the composition is unpublished, it is still protected by US Copyright law.
(a) Unpublished Works. — The works specified by sections 102 and 103 [musical works, including any accompanying words], while unpublished, are subject to protection under this title without regard to the nationality or domicile of the author.
Whether the student has included sheet music files on the CD, or an audio recording of the composition, it would be a good idea to include a © notice and date, either on the CD, or within the files.
posted by Jeff Howard at 3:25 AM on March 16, 2005

As its already been said, the work is already protected as long as its "fixed in [a] tangible medium of expression."

What chrismear posted about putting it into an envelope (AKA a poorman's copyright) is total bunk. Here's a good summary of US copyright laws and registration, more geared towards writers, but the "copyright myths" may be of some interest as well.

(disclaimer - IAAL, but not yours - consult with an attorney for advice, etc.)
posted by dicaxpuella at 3:38 AM on March 16, 2005

what weston said. download the form, fill out. enclose either an actual audio copy of the music on cd or just the sheet music.

you won't get the completed paperwork back for some time (mine took about 6 months), but you don't need it
posted by poppo at 5:06 AM on March 16, 2005

Convert the audio to mp3 and use this, Creative Commons Publisher that'll apply a Creative Commons License and publish the (mp3) files to archive.org (once you've set up a username and password)

If you use the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License (one of the more restrictive), it'll cover pretty much all your needs and the submit date will be set in stone.

More on the licenses here
posted by ModestyBCatt at 5:45 AM on March 16, 2005

The "you can mail it to yourself" thing is one of the most persistent myths out there. From copyright.gov:
I’ve heard about a “poor man’s copyright.” What is it?
The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.
The rest of the FAQs on that page are worth reading. You have a copyright regardless of whether you register it. Registration allows you to sue, and if you register shortly before or after you first publish your work, it can give you increased damages if you win. But that's it.
posted by profwhat at 6:39 AM on March 16, 2005

As others have said, the work is already copyrighted by default. However, since it's a musical composition and you may want to be eligable for compulsory royalties and publishing payments, you will also want to register any composition with either ASCAP or BMI, who clear copyrights for music used on the radio, in film, or on record.

Assuming your student will be attending a music-related program, he or she will soon know far, far too much about publishing royalties and copyrights.
posted by stet at 9:39 AM on March 16, 2005

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