Copyright: Protecting Your Songs>
(Life +70 or 95 Years)

Copyright means the protection given by the laws of the U.S., as well as many other countries of the world, to the original works that a writer creates. The works can be songs, or underscore to films and television programs, or symphonic or electronic pieces, or advertising jingles or any other original creation of music, lyrics or both.

The Copyright Law gives to the copyright owner (the writer, publisher, etc.) of a work, a number of exclusive rights which are good for a specific number of years. The law also puts certain limits on those rights. The exclusive rights include the right to produce a work in copies and records; the right to prepare derivative works; the right to distribute copies of the work; the right to perform the work; the right to display the work; and most recently, a limited performance right in sound recordings digitally transmitted.

In late 1998, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act which changed the 1976 Copyright Act by significantly increasing the length of time a song remains under copyright protection. Different rules though apply for songs written prior to January 1, 1978 and those written on or after that date.

For compositions written on or after January 1, 1978, the basic term of protection is the life of the writer plus 70 years. For example, if two 20 year old writers wrote a song in 2005, and one lives to be 50 and the other lives to be 100, the copyright protection for that song would last for 150 years from its creation. In this case, the protection would last from the time the song was written through the life of the last living writer (i.e. 100 years minus 20 = 80 years) plus an additional 70 years.

For compositions written prior to January 1, 1978, and which were still under copyright protection as of the time the Term Extension Act was passed, an additional 20 years of protection was added to the old law's terms. As the total number of years of protection for most pre-1978 songs under the 1976 law was 75 years (28 original years + 28 renewal years and a 19 year extension), the term of protection for these works has been extended to a total of 95 years from the original date of copyright.

As to "works made for hire" written on or after 1/1/78 (many compositions written for film and television fall into this category), the new law's term of copyright protection is 120 years from creation or 95 years from first publication, whichever expires first.

Copyright Office forms and information circulars are available from:
Register of Copyrights
Copyright Office
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C 20559-6000
(202) 707-6787

Fees for
Basic: $45
Online: $35

The above copyright discussion is meant to provide only an overview of some of the basics of Copyright, as there are many variables and considerations in any situation. The copyright laws, both in the U.S. as well as in other countries, are very complex and attorneys well versed in copyright should always be consulted on individual problems or inquiries.

© 2008 Todd Brabec, Jeff Brabec
For more information, check out the book Music, Money and Success: The Insider's Guide To Making Money In The Music Business (Schirmer Trade Books/Music Sales/502 pages) available for sale at, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Music Sales Group and