Copywrite or Copyright?


Here’s the video transcript:

After the band has written their first original song, and with each subsequent song, there are decisions to be made about how best to protect the song. Christian band members tend to use the words copywrite (with a ‘W’) and copyright (with an ‘R’) interchangeably, but they are definitely not the same. Let’s clear up the meanings and the spelling. Both words are pronounced the same way (hence the confusion), but they have very different meanings.

A copywriter is

“a writer of advertising or publicity copy,”

according to Webster’s Dictionary.

It’s actually a job title in the advertising industry. A Christian band could use a copywriter to write advertising such as the About section on a Facebook page or portions of the band’s press kit. But most bands cannot afford this expense. So, much of the time, when a band is referring to “copywrite,” they really mean “copyright.”

Webster’s Dictionary defines a copyright as

“the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work).”

It can be used as a noun, verb, or adjective—that is one handy little word and a topic that keenly interests bands. In short, copyrights are the rights that you have as an artist to own and sell your work. But, as with all things legal, it is never easy or inexpensive to protect your rights.
The Unites States Copyright Office says an artist has these exclusive rights (which means you are the only one who can do these things with your song, unless you give someone else your permission):

● reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords
● prepare derivative works based upon the work
● distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
● perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomime, motion pictures, and other audiovisual works
● display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
● perform the work publicly (in the case of sound recordings*) by means of a digital audio transmission

Note: Sound recordings are defined in the law as “‘works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work.’ Common examples include recordings of music, drama, or lectures. A sound recording is not the same as a phonorecord. A phonorecord is the physical object in which works of authorship are embodied. The word ‘phonorecord’ includes cassette tapes, CDs, and vinyl discs, as well as other formats.”

Interestingly enough, you have copyrights automatically in the United States, Canada, and most but not all other countries. All these rights belong to “authors of original works of authorship” (including songwriters) as soon as it is “fixed.”

Fixed means that the song has to be more than just sung at a show, it has to exist in some tangible form. The song must be written down (saved to your computer is fine) or recorded. It is important to write down both the lyrics and the melody line if you opt not to record the song. Use standard music notation, not tablature because tab does not indicate duration of notes. Of course, the song has to be original—a copy of someone else’s song or portions of someone else’s song is not protected. So, if your song is original and fixed, you already have copyrights!

But, having rights and protecting these rights are two very different things. For example, we all know that pedestrians have the “right of way” when we are crossing the street, especially at designated crosswalks. We have that right just because we are walking. But even the smallest child is taught to look both ways before crossing the street. No one wants to be hit by a car, so we protect ourselves by making sure there is no oncoming traffic before we cross the street. Most of the time, when a songwriter says they are copyrighting a song they really mean they are protecting their song by registering it with the Copyright Office.

Songwriters do not receive more rights by registering a song. They are simply making their rights easier to enforce.

CLICK HERE to take the next step on your copyright journey:
Discover Who Owns the Copyrights to Your Band’s Songs?

This article is an excerpt from The Christian Band Handbook.
The Christian Band HandbookOne of the best tools we have developed for you at Christian Band Help is The Christian Band Handbook. This resource book covers topics such as defining your ministry’s mission, how to find the right band members, choosing and protecting your band’s name, copyrights, press kits and booking, music marketing, how to make the most of your ministry dollars, and a whole lot more.

We know what it’s like to be a Christian musician. Between us my husband Mark and I have over 60 years of experience in almost every aspect of music ministry. I wrote this book so you can learn from our experience. We want to help you launch your band on the journey to impact the world around you while avoiding the pitfalls along the way.

The Christian Band Handbook is available as a paperback or e-book on Amazon and most e-book retailers.


for more information.


Do you need more in depth information about copyrights? Check out this book:

Music Copyright Law

It is written by attorneys that teach classes in music copyright law, but the material is presented in layman’s terms.


Do you want to register the copyrights for your Christian band’s music, but feel uncomfortable doing it yourself? Check out LegalZoom. They have on-line step-by-step forms you can fill out to walk you through the process.


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