In 1989 the United States took the position of the Berne Convention, stating that copyright is automatically the right of the creator of a work as soon as it is in a tangible form. For years I believed that all you need to do is pop your CD in an envelope, send it to yourself, and never open it. The postmark would date the work and you should be covered in the event of a dispute. Unfortunately, the “Poor Man’s Copyright” has had mixed success stories. The fact of the matter is that you need indubitable proof that you in fact own the right to the work in the event of a lawsuit. A copyright itself does not protect you completely, but it does establish a public record of the claim.
Fortunately, the process is fairly simple & inexpensive. Before you begin it is important to understand the difference between a Performing Arts copyright (form PA) for a song, and a Sound Recording copyright (form SR) for a recorded performance of a song. If you wrote and recorded the song all you need to do is fill out form SR and under the nature of authorship write something like “All music and sound recording”.
If you wrote and recorded the song you can proceed with that SR form & be done with it. The same is true if the same two or three people wrote and recorded the song & deserve equal credit. It gets a little tricky when you start attributing performance rights to some people and SR rights to others. That is when I would defer to the following site for more information http://www.copyright.gov.
Once you have determined what forms are right for you all you need to do is make a free account at http://www.copyright.gov. Once registered you can upload your MP3’s and lyrics digitally. If you want to save a bit of money you can register your entire CD as one “collection” listing each song as a “content title”. This would only apply if the same split of ownership is identical on each song. Otherwise, you need to file separate SR and PA forms for each song.
It will take up to 15 months to receive your certificate of registration, but your copyright is effective from the day your materials are received by the Copyright Office. I would definitely suggest sending via certified mail so you know nothing was lost in the mail.
Hopefully this serves as a basic introduction to copyrights. If you have any more insight or would like to clarify any of the information above please post here or in our forums.