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Your music may strike a cord with another artist

Music is nearly everywhere you turn. Even if you aren't an avid music lover, you will hear music in movies, on television and even in video games. As an artist, you may use elements of another musician's work, but you strive to make it your own.

However, if that other artist believes that your song is too similar, you could face a complaint of copyright infringement. You automatically create a copyright when you write or record a piece of music.

Do you have to register every song?

The Copyright Act of 1976 (effective in 1978) does not require you to register your copyright, but you may consider doing so in order to protect your rights to it. You can copyright the following portions of a musical composition:

  • Melody
  • Lyrics
  • Rhythm
  • Chord progression

You only need to show a minimum of creativity in order to obtain a copyright.

What is copyright infringement?

In order for a court to determine that you infringed on another artist's copyright, the other party must prove that you had access to the music and that your music is substantially similar to it. If you heard the song in question, you had access to it. You don't have to consciously recall hearing it, however. You could have stored it somewhere in your subconscious.

Proving substantial similarity might not be as easy since many songs share similar elements. Many courts will limit the evidence to the portion or portions of the track that spawned the dispute. In some cases, the similarities are obvious, but not in others. This is what makes a claim of copyright infringement a challenge when it comes to music.

When music is in the public domain

Some music doesn't fall under the copyright laws because it is part of the public domain. Right away, any music recorded prior to 1923 falls into this category. Anything recorded after that year becomes part of the public domain 70 years after the death of the recording artist. Until that time, it will be necessary to obtain permission to use any portion of it. Without permission, you may still infringe on the artist's copyright.

Whether you accuse someone else of infringing on your copyrighted material or someone else accuses you, these claims can quickly become complex and frustrating. It may increase the potential for your success in either case to bring in an attorney who understands this area of law and can help you through the process.

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