Owning Copyright

There is little more important to creative people than the right to control what happens to the fruits of their labour. The trade journals, law reports, and studio corridors abound with legend concerning this or that song copied by this or that recording star. George Harrison, Men At Work, and even Elton John have not escaped accusation, and the list is a lot longer too!
You can read up on Composer Rights to learn more about how music rights are exploited and protected – all for the benefit of you, the composer.
Right now, let’s focus on how you own the rights in the songs you have composed – or others have written, but which you would like to own. Remember, the whole songbook of The Beatles is owned by someone else!
The rules are quite simple, and they apply, generally speaking, to all creations of the intellect – haha, yes, o’ Muso, hey you the intellectual! That’s why your music is protected as “Intellectual Property”, or “IP” as the common abbreviation is more commonly heard. Seriously, now – photographs, poems, software, architectural drawings, paintings, cinematographic film, essays, songs, and so on (the list is almost endless) are all “works” for the purposes of copyright and are all protected in more or less the same way. We will stick to songs for present purposes, because that is what we are here for – i musici !!
As with most IP rights, and copyright in particular, the statutes regulate the position. Bear in mind, however, that legislation is – for most normal people – written in code, and interpreting the nuances and sometimes complicated (or just plain confusing) clauses and provisions is best left to those who have had nothing better to do in life than learn how to read code – the good ol’ lawyers (:-)!!
It is too soon to panic. The basic principles are the same the world over. In summary:
you create it – you own it.
Yip, that’s about what it is. No, you do not have to “register” your song in order for you to own copyright. Actually, you cannot “register” it – at least in the same way as you can (and have to) register a patent, and in certain situations a trade mark.
The moment you have captured your musical work in a material form – be it on paper, on midi file, on cassette, whatever (a song in your head doesn’t count) you are entitled to copyright. Hey, youhave copyright, whether you like it or not!

You can look at some of these aspects in a bit more detail:
Check What is a Right?
Check What are the Copyrights?
Go to The “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” Case Study
Go To Creating an Original Work
Go to Composer Rights
Go To Employee Rights
Go To Assignment of Copyright

The position summarised so far: Copyright will subsist in a composition from the time it is created, and provided it is reduced to a material form. That copyright – the right to prevent reproductions or adaptations – vests with the person who composed ie. authored the work.
One last word:
Often you will hear something like “but I’ve got the rights for that song!” What the person might rather mean is that he has a licence to reproduce the song, whether for his stage show, the musical revue he is producing, or a cover version for his band to put on their cd, and so on. Just remember that ownership of the copyright, and a licence to exploit the work are different things, and which have different consequences.