There are three things I am sure of. First, I have had to fight for my health my entire life—that is just how it is when you have a brain tumor. Second, I am the same person all the time, I am who I am and what you see is what you get (yeah, blind pun intended). Third and most germane to this post, I will always stand up against ignorance.
When I was a young man just beginning on my journey, I was asked to teach music lessons all the time. I didn't agree to do so because I wanted to make sure I was, in fact, a professional and had something to impart.
I am proud to say that I now teach for much of my living and I find great purpose and satisfaction in changing one life at a time, often bringing hope, but also skill to my students so they can accomplish their dreams!
So, just like I refute that a lack of musical knowledge somehow constitutes a style—it doesn't. If you only know three chords, how can you have a style that only employs these three chords? You don't really have any choice and a style implies that you considered all options and a style requires that you consider every permutation and make an informed choice. In a similar fashion, I am also vigorous in calling out the uninformed notion that you don't need to file a copyright with the United States government in the form of a properly registered copyright with the Library of Congress!
Over the years, I have worked hard to dispel the myth that there is such a thing as the "poor man's copyright". This is the notion that if you send a song in fixed form to yourself via registered mail you have copyrighted the work. You haven't and at best, I mean at best, you have a package showing a date as an exhibit in a court case.
Only by filing a proper copyright do you get the exclusive rights a copyright holder enjoys under the US copyright law. Said US copyright is like copyrights in most Western countries (we will leave alone the rampant copyright infringements in countries like China).
Some of these protected and exclusive rights are:
1. Reproduce copies of the work.
2. Make derivative works, (ie, to make other works, in the case of music, songs based on something you already created).
3. Distribute copies of the work.
4. Publicly perform the work—in the digital era this means a few things, however, we shan't go into detail about each right in this post.
5. Adapt the work into another format like a musical, this is called Grand Rights.
6. License or transfer all or some of the rights you have to others.
I feel in my opinion as a music industry professional who has studied at Berklee and from long years of experience that the following is misleading and inaccurate, and perhaps the most upsetting thing is that this company is using fearmongering to scare people new to the biz into a poor decision. The following is directly quoted from the misleading website in question.
"A Clear and Present Danger for Songwriters"
The music business today is very different from what it was in the past. Today it is up to songwriters to get their songs out there whether it's as a songwriter, artist or both, and this is where the danger lies.
When a songwriter posts a song on the internet, millions of people have access to it. In addition, when you send your songs to artists, producers, labels and publishers, you put your songs in front of the people who are currently making the music. If that song is not copyrighted or protected in some way, you are at great risk that someone may take your melodic or lyrical ideas and treat them as their own. This happens more than you might imagine, intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. If that happens and your song is not protected, there is nothing you can do about it.
This is the clear and present danger for songwriters that exists today, and the reason why it is so important that you protect your songs. In the past, the only way to protect your songs was a US Copyright. Today, thanks to technology, songwriters have another option, which is why we created Songuard.
You automatically have a copyright the date you create a song and put it into a physical tangible form. The purpose of registering the song with the US Copyright office was to prove and verify that date of creation. A US Copyright costs $37 for one writer and $55 for two or more writers. This year, it goes up to $55 for one writer and $75 for two or more.
Registering with Songuard costs only $3.95 no matter how many writers and will give you the same proof and verification of the date of creation as a US Copyright.
Too good to be true? Go to www.songuard.com and look under FAQ/Terms and you will understand the process and why a registration with Songuard is impeccable proof of the date of creation which in turn, will give you copyright protection."
The last line is blatantly not true.
I wanted to make sure I spoke to my attorney before writing this post so I was 100% confident that I hadn't missed anything. Here is what he said:
"Copyright exists from the moment the work is created (fixed in a tangible medium). However, registration with the Copyright Office provides important benefits, such as proof of ownership. You can't file a copyright infringement lawsuit unless you have a registration with the Copyright Office, so you can't protect it."
So, there you go, some of what the above service is claiming is true, but the most important part is that the song isn't protected in the same way a real copyright with the library would protect it. In addition, unless it was changed with in the last 2 months, the price structure they list is also not true regarding what it costs to register with the Library of Congress.
I don't know what the intention of this company is, but intentional or not, they are disseminating information that isn't true and could really damage the protection that artists, labels, publishers and writers need and expect to have.
Bottom line, just remember in life there is no such thing as a free lunch and you most often get what you pay for—in this case, nothing. Shortcuts usually are short because they don't address the full scope of the problem or don't include the full services—in this case, the protection that you get when doing things the correct way.
Okay, I hear you say, well I didn't know better and so now what can I do? Well, it is this simple—educate yourself with trusted institutions like colleges, universities or your own attorney. Remember, anyone can post something online—that doesn't make it true. Also, remember the old and worn-out axiom— if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!