Music Copyright Information

SMS is happy to help direct an artist to obtain a copyright for their original work by providing information and the steps they'll need to follow to register with the United States Library of Congress.

To copyright your work (words and music), register your song or collection of songs with the Library of Congress copyright section of their web site.

After you apply for a copyright, you can register your work for "mechanicals". In the US, this can be done with the Harry Fox Agency. Mechanical royalties are the duplication / copy royalties received for music sheets, song books, CDs, movies, and other media which happens with any duplication. The mechanical royalty is split between the music writer(s) and the song / lyric(s) writers and the publisher who owns the copyright.

Performance Royalties are tracked via the "PRO" performance organizations.
BMI, 212-586-2000, or 1-800-925-8451
ASCAP, 212-321-6160
SESAC, 212-586-3450 (invite only membership)

Additional Information for Christian Artists:
If you are a Christian artist, you will not receive performance royalties for religious services. You can get royalties for coffee-shops and other venues which are not a primarily a religious event.
You still have mechanical rights. The CCLI number on the bottom corner of the words on the screen and on the paper copies on the music stands cover your church's mechanicals. Artists are loosely paid via their CCLI membership via audits and playlists maintained by the church. If you need sheet music to sing "covers" by popular Christian artists and labels, legally, you need to contact the publisher/artist to obtain them. Many make these available without a fee so to get the music "out there"; if they are thinking forward to monetary compensation, they are thinking of the gain on the performance "Pro" side royalties, and increased "Mechanical" royalties of their CDs sales.

American Songwriter
Songwriters Guild of America
Music Contracts

Churches might typically need either an "Onsite" and/or an "Online Streaming" license. One covers your internal performance license, and one covers the streaming/re-streaming of the performance. If the event is a religious service, then you are exempt for the performance copyright royalty (not mechanicals). However, for on-line streaming broadcasts, you have to purchase a "Online" or "Streaming" performance license. Churches often need the "On-site" license for playing music in their coffee cafe, bookstores, social community events, VBS, and other special events which are not considered a 100% religious service (event). If you church has streaming of their services, they have to pay performance royalties on those services and the music contained within them. They pay once to stream music, and another one to re-stream your music in their services. For example, CCLI provides both copyright protection for both mechanical royalties and performance/streaming, and CCS is a company that has a very large catalog of contemporary Christian music, secular music and videos, and popular holiday music in its catalog.

Note: The links above are provided by SMS for their educational value only. SMS does not specifically endorse any of the links. If you have any legal questions, you might need to consult a copyright attorney. SMS cannot provide legal information regarding your legal rights or responsibilities in reproducing or use of your music.