How to copyright your music
To gain all of the protections of the copyright law, you need to copyright your music. Luckily, this is really easy to do. In fact, music is automatically copyrighted the moment you create it in a tangible medium, like on paper or on audio recording. That’s right. All you have to do is write your original song down on paper, or record it, and you own the copyright. Then you are protected by law and others cannot use your song without your permission.
Copyright registration is different
One common misconception is that you copyright your music with the United States Copyright Office. The truth is that your stuff is automatically copyrighted the moment you record it on a tangible medium. What the Copyright Office provides is not the copyright itself, but a certificate of registration of your copyright. This is a formal document issued directly from the Copyright Office to you that certifies that you are the owner of a work and that they have a record of your ownership on file at the Library of Congress.
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration.”
Why you should register with the Copyright Office
We recommend you register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you do, you will have “prima facie” evidence that you were the first to create the work. “Prima facie” is a legal term. It means that the other side bears the burden of proof to prove that the work is not yours.
Copyright registration services
You can register directly with the Copyright Office at Copyright.gov. Their system works fine, but it is not entirely user friendly. Perhaps for that reason, other services have popped up that offer to copyright your music for you. They charge roughly $100 plus the $35 filing fee. They will ask the same questions, (although perhaps in a way that is simpler to understand), and then forward your information on to the Copyright Office for registration. Note that whether you file directly at Copyright.gov or with a third party agency, the copyright registration process and certificate will be the same. That’s because the only entity that can issue your certificate is the Copyright Office. You will still need to wait several months for your certificate of registration to arrive in the mail.
Official explanations from Copyright.gov
Copyright.gov is the official web site of the United States Copyright Office. It is a good resource for information about copyright. The following excerpts were taken from their site. Our comments are in green:
What is copyright?
When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
You don’t have to register your work with the Copyright Office to be protected. This is a common misconception. Still, Your work is copyrighted as soon as you write it down. However, if ever you need to sue for damages, you’ll need to register your work at that time.
Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.
We recommend you register as soon as you complete your creation. That way you will have “prima facie” evidence that you were the first to create the work. “Prima facie” is a legal term. It means that the other side bears the burden of proof to prove that the work is not yours. Registration is affordable and not that hard. Registration costs $35 and can easily be completed online at 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 idea here is that a federal postmark on a sealed envelope with your creation inside validates the date of creation. This is a fine idea. But again, you will eventually need to register your work if ever you have to sue for damages. To play it safe, we recommend registering your works soon after you create them.
Source: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#what Active on 8/31/2016
Copyright.gov Home Page
The United States Copyright Office official web site for new registrations and other copyright isuses.
Circular 1 – Copyright Basics
An official document from the Copyright Office that explains the basics of copyright.
United States Copyright Office (Copyright.gov) official page with answers to frequently asked questions.