Authors of musical work own the exclusive rights to their compositions. Once created, the work is copyrighted even if the copyright is never registered with the copyright office. Copyright protection provides that:
- Another person cannot reproduce the music or lyrics
- Another person cannot distribute the music or lyrics either for free or for profit
- Another person cannot perform the music or lyrics in public
- Another person cannot play a recording of the music or lyrics in public
Copyright for musical work can be granted for both the composition itself and and for specific recorded performances. These are considered two separate copyrights. Although registering for copyright protection is voluntary, for the copyright to be enforceable in a court of law a copyright must be registered. In some circumstance a “poor man’s copyright,” where an author mails himself a copy of their work to establish a creation date, may be sufficient establish an enforceable copyright. Regardless, it is advisable that all authors promptly obtain copyright registration for all original compositions. Registering a composition provides public notification of copyright, and another person cannot in such cases use the composition publicly unless s/he pay royalties to the author. The author, of course, may sell, license or transfer the copyright.