Has This Songwriter's Song Been Stolen?
By Norm Daniels
Songwriting Tips 08/11/12
A worried songwriter contacted us recently, afraid someone had stolen his song. Piracy, he called it. He had uploaded a demo we produced for him to a web site and later found it had been used in a group of sample songs on a new MP3 player. Mind you the song hadn't been offered for sale, just as a demonstration recording to show off the player.
We understood the writer's concern and had to stop and think for a moment ourselves. This wasn't piracy. Piracy is stealing songs and selling them with no compensation to the owner of the song. And piracy is far more likely to happen with songs already recorded and promoted by record companies. This was actually a compliment. The manufacturer liked the song so well that they used it to proudly show off their player. And who knows? This could turn into great publicity for the song. A recording artist could hear it and decide to record it.
Of course, every songwriter is rightly concerned about song theft… about being ripped off by someone who takes their work, claims it as their own and sells it with no compensation to the writer.
There are a number of ways theft can happen, but some that may seem like theft but are really not, and just the opposite: some ways of stealing a song that the writer may not consider or be aware of.
How it CAN happen includes taking it from somewhere you've shared it without taking steps to establish it's yours. And that doesn't necessarily mean copyright registration.
The first thing you should do is keep good racords of everything you write and WHEN YOU WROTE IT. The when is officially referred to as Date of Creation by the U.S. copyright office and professionals in the music business. Publishers usually keep the DOC as it's called on file with other vital information about the work.
You should keep the original copy of any song you write, including lyric sheet, recording if any and any notes made during the writing process. Dates of creation should be written on all materials. If you write on a computer, you automatically have dates on everything. Just make sure you keep backups, in case of a computer crash.
For further proof you can, before you send the song to anyone else or upload it to any site, mail it to yourself via certified or registered mail, and/or you could have a notary or similar official date and witness your statement of ownership. Your statement can be as simple as "I certify that I wrote this song on (date)."
These steps are not meant to substitute for copyright registration (note that we say registration because you already have a copyright the moment you finish a song). However even if the song is registered, it's quite probable that you'll still need back-up documentation if you're ever involved in an infringement lawsuit.
This is only a brief post on song protection, because in a space this small all aspects could never be covered. Copyright law is a a huge and complicated collection of documents. We would never presume to be able to answer all questions. That's why we rely on two specialized law firms to answer ours.