Imagine this happening:
You wake up early in the morning (or in the afternoon) with a melody, some words or some music ideas playing over and over in your head. If you're working a 9 to 5, it's possible that you're humming the idea in your head on your way to, at and from work. Now that the song has been in your head all day, you decide to share it with your closest friend who happens to be a musician. Your friend loves it. You decide it's time to make it into a song.
2 months later, that same song is on the radio and the internet with your friends' name on it. What do you do? Even better, what can you do?
The above example happens every day. Even before the world-wide web, there have been millions of cases where songwriters fight to prove that his/her song was stolen. Some cases have been proven, some haven't. Now, proving that a song was stolen from you is tricky. Did you know that when you have an idea for a song and you put it in tangible form (having an actual physical existence such as lyrics on paper or your idea/song on a CD) you already have a copyright? You didn't know that did you?
What probably happened was your friend took your idea, put it in on a CD, the internet or just simply written it down on paper before you had a chance to. According to the Berne Convention (see http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92appii.html for more info), if you have an idea for a song, or even a poem, and you jot it down on paper, record it on CD, or simply write it on a piece of toilet paper…anything tangible (not an idea in your head), you already have an “automatic” copyright. By law! Sounds simple doesn't it? Nothing in life is simple.
So, who has the copyright? You guessed right. It's the friend who placed the song idea in tangible form. But can the person, who had the original idea, file a lawsuit against him/her? The answer is no. There’s a difference between “automatic” copyrights and registering your song idea with the Library of Congress. While your works are considered to have a copyright when you first create it, it will not protect you from someone stealing it.
Registering your works with The Library of Congress will not protect your music from being stolen either, however; it will show the date the song was registered, therefore allowing you to sue the person who stole the idea from you. If the above creator of the song registered with The Library of Congress prior to sharing it with his friend, he would've been in a better position.
With the current digital age, it would appear to me that it would be easy to prove who had the idea first. Each time someone uploads a song onto the internet, it stamps the date of that upload. Even better, when you record your idea on a recorder and transfer it into an mp3 file, it also stamps the date of that creation as well. However; I feel it's important to take the time to protect your music through The Library of Congress prior to sharing it with the world. It doesn’t hurt.
To register your songs (usually referred to as works), simply go to www.copyright.gov and look for “About Copyright”. This will give you the copyright basics. This will also answer questions that are frequently asked about the type of copyrights needed, the fees and the information that takes the mystery out of copyrighting your music.
-Tim "The ChirpinByrd"