THE EVIL "C" WORD

THE EVIL "C" WORD.

I'd like to take a minute and talk about one of the most misunderstood processes in all of songwriting. COPYRIGHTS.

Copyrighting is a process that protects creative works, particlarly songs, magazine articles, books, and other creative works against theft and make sure creators are paid money they deserve. In theory that works. Not always in reality. These days, in the Internet age, it seems nothing is protectable. With millions of communications an hour, and everyone putting everything out into cyberspace, it is very hard to track, protect anyone from anything. With identity theft at and all time high, to think that anyone is going to be deterred from using something anyway they want by some piece of paper is somewhat conveluted thinking in the first place.
And there are some in legislative bodies around the world that believe that ALL copyrights, registrations are outdated. They will tell you that once you put it out there you don't own it anymore. That is nonsense as well, but we are in a long term battle.

But that is really not what I want to talk about here. This is not a legal forum. It is an opinion forum based upon my observations. And this is the primary observation:

MOST WRITERS ARE TRYING TO COPYRIGHT SOMETHING THAT IS NOT COPYRIGHTABLE.

You can not copyright a title, a phrase, a name. You can TRADEMARK certain phrases as "Have a Coke and a smile" but you can't keep people from using it in every day speech. Have a coke and a smile, dude. Anybody could say that. But you can't use it in an advertisement for your own uses.

The majority of songs that I see in critiques, evalutaions, on shows, demos, etc. are something I have heard a million times before. They use similar subject matter, rhymes, tone, same thing over and over. And melodically it is even worse.There are only twelve notes. We've all heard songs on the radio that sound like something else, usually a song from many years ago.

I was in Canada working with an artist and she started singing a melody that she had been working on for years. She even had lyrics that followed the melody. She had never sang this to ANYBODY and sat waiting for me to be blown away. I very quietly typed up some words on my lap top and pulled up You Tube. I found what I was looking for very quickly, and turned the screen around. "Like this?" I asked and played the video. It was IDENTICAL to a song from the 70's band GRAND FUNK RAILROAD, called "BAD TIME TO BE IN LOVE." . I had played the song many times before and knew it well. She was shocked. She thought she had never heard it. She was 4 years old when it was out. How could she have known it?
The truth is that she had heard it. It is played all the time, classic rock radio, television commercials, background in music in films. That song has been around. Good foir Mark, Don and Mel, of Grand Funk.  Not so good for my artist.

And it happens all the time. I myself have had people come up to me upon hearing some song of mine and say "have you ever heard?..." and I go and listen to that song and BOOM! I can't believe it but it sounds just like the other song. What to do? Make changes or live with it.  It happes and you might as well expect it.

My comments here are on the process of copyrighting. In Nashville, songs are not copyritten until they are ready to be released commercially. Songwriters write HUNDREDS of songs a year and you simply can't go spending $40 per song to do that unless you think it is going to have legs and have a shot at things.

But, people say, you can't play songs out unless they are copyritten! Someone will steal them."
Nonsense. I say. After all, how is anyone going to hear what you are doing if you don't play it out, and in my personal experience people don't concously steal songs. It is a myth. We do pick things up all the time, and we might write similar or the same ideas. Again, I don't think you can avoid it. I believe you will always write songs, and then write better songs. Play them out.

For the most part, most writers never have ACCESS to major artists, producers, publishers, labels, etc. So how could they HEAR your song? Are they scanning the one billion songs a month on the Internet for new ideas? Very doubtful.

There are going to be times that things just don't go your way. Several years ago I had a song that I closed all my shows with. It was a sweet song about wishing people hope and love, basically a wish to songwriters. I played it everywhere for years. It was my finale. One day I started getting phone calls and emails, congratulationg me on my giant new hit on a major country group. The only problem was it wasn't my song. It was written by two friends of mine, who I had played many shows with. Both were VERY successful writers and we all had been around each other for years. And theirs had several things that sounded VERY MUCH like mine. So did I rush out getting a lawyer and suing? Nope. Because they didn't steal anything. Neither did I. I am sure mine sounded like something else as well.
These things just happen. Did they get any inkling from mine? Have no idea and tend to doubt it. The gold and platinum on their walls tend to show they don't need my goofy ideas.

But this does happen. Just expect it and write more songs.

But if you feel you have to get protected, whatever that means, and will feel more comfortable doing it, file with the Library of Congress and do what makes you feel better. I would do a few things first. I would play the song and get feedback. I would have a decent recording of the song because you will need that no matter what.
THEN WRITE MORE SONGS.

There is a symatry to this. Most writers write a ton of songs, just getting a few that rise to the top. If they are worth their salt, they usually come into contact with publishers or people who will do the copyright or participate in the process. Why worry about something you don't have to until you need to be worried about it.

WRITE MORE SONGS! Maybe someone will steal from you, you can sue them and win a big ol' settlement. LOL!

Good luck.

MAB

3 comments

  • YrralMallik

    YrralMallik

    (;U REALLY ARE DA MAN MAB;)Thanks for all you do.Appreciate it much so. Larry Gordon Killam of Facebook Group Songwriters Unite over 1900 members.

    (;U REALLY ARE DA MAN MABwinkThanks for all you do.Appreciate it much so.

    Larry Gordon Killam of Facebook Group Songwriters Unite over 1900 members.

  • C.t. Spencer

    C.t. Spencer Utah

    I was told the easiest way to copyright or atleast show a song idea was yours is to make duplicates of lyrics and music seal them in an envelope and mail them back to yourself with a dated post mark on them envelope and then never open it unless needed . So I did that with over 500 songs .. And am now starting to put them on sites Does that sound crazy ... Haha

    I was told the easiest way to copyright or atleast show a song idea was yours is to make duplicates of lyrics and music seal them in an envelope and mail them back to yourself with a dated post mark on them envelope and then never open it unless needed . So I did that with over 500 songs .. And am now starting to put them on sites Does that sound crazy ... Haha

  • Marc-Alan Barnette

    Marc-Alan Barnette

    CT, That is called the "poor man's copyright" and has never really held up in court. The process is that you really have to register songs with the US Copyright office in Washington DC. That is the only way to truly be sure. Now the "reality" of life in this day and age, there is not really a way to totally "protect" songs through copyright or otherwise. In the age of an Internet that is pretty much "up for the taking" if someone wants to use what you have put up there, they are going to use it and there is not a lot anyone can do about it. They can go through a "cease and desist" order, which costs money, for illegal usage, and usually will not yeild much of anything. Most songs don't sell any significant copies so there is not much to sue over. As far as keeping someone from "stealing ideas", again, I don't know how you do that. You cannot copyright ideas, titles, subject matter. It is written all the time, and most of the time if you do some research, you find it was probably written before you were born. The key is getting a copyright on THAT PARTICULAR SONG, which is what you would be copyrighting in the first place. What you might think of doing is what professionals do, and wait until something is ready to be released commercially, on CD or downloadable form, or even in the grouping of songs, "The collection of works by..." that is generally what professionals and publishers do. With writers that write 125-200 songs a year, it can get very costly to copyright dozens or hundreds of songs that never even see the light of day. If you are ready to do that, you can go to the web site of the Library of Congress and find the applicable forms, affix copies of your song with the lyric sheet and pay the money for the registration of the song. For more help, you might contact your representative at your PRO, ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. Good luck, MAB MAB

    CT,

    That is called the "poor man's copyright" and has never really held up in court. The process is that you really have to register songs with the US Copyright office in Washington DC. That is the only way to truly be sure.

    Now the "reality" of life in this day and age, there is not really a way to totally "protect" songs through copyright or otherwise. In the age of an Internet that is pretty much "up for the taking" if someone wants to use what you have put up there, they are going to use it and there is not a lot anyone can do about it. They can go through a "cease and desist" order, which costs money, for illegal usage, and usually will not yeild much of anything. Most songs don't sell any significant copies so there is not much to sue over.

    As far as keeping someone from "stealing ideas", again, I don't know how you do that. You cannot copyright ideas, titles, subject matter. It is written all the time, and most of the time if you do some research, you find it was probably written before you were born. The key is getting a copyright on THAT PARTICULAR SONG, which is what you would be copyrighting in the first place.

    What you might think of doing is what professionals do, and wait until something is ready to be released commercially, on CD or downloadable form, or even in the grouping of songs, "The collection of works by..." that is generally what professionals and publishers do. With writers that write 125-200 songs a year, it can get very costly to copyright dozens or hundreds of songs that never even see the light of day.

    If you are ready to do that, you can go to the web site of the Library of Congress and find the applicable forms, affix copies of your song with the lyric sheet and pay the money for the registration of the song. For more help, you might contact your representative at your PRO, ASCAP, BMI or SESAC.

    Good luck,
    MAB
    MAB

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