A "poor man's copyright" is just writing "(C) 2011 John Doe" on the CD, as an MP3 tag, on written music, lyric sheets, etc.
It doesn't really protect because someone can copyright the material (whatever it is) after you. Without a proper copyright filing showing a date prior to the date of the other copyrighted material the burden of proof is totally on you. In all likelyhood you will lose the case.
In reality, a "poor man's copyright" can be expensive to prove in such a case and a greater loss if the infraction upon your work creates the next mega-hit.
There are no shortcuts and we are all guilty of this at times.
I know this is a hokey-looking site (no doubt designed by lawyers), but I use
and have found it to be a good way to establish date of origin that's a little less expensive than the copyright office.
Or ... you could register a compilation, which is a group of songs, through the copyright office, also considerably less expensive than doing individual songs, but if you ever need to license an individual song out of the compilation, it is a little trickier down the road
From my understanding the "poor man's copyright" does not work in legal cases. I believe that a compilation of tunes can be copyrighted for about $35.00.
This might help a bit: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ50.pdf
It talks about Phono Recordings
Hope this helps and not muddies the waters!
I'm trying to follow-up with some articles from Electronic Musician or some other magazine I get. They started a monthly column dealing with music law and the articles are a great resource. Well, great when you can find them, LOL!
Some fee listings at: http://www.copyright.gov/docs/fees.html
As I understand it, anything you create is automatically copyrighted to the author. The problem is proving you are the author. I've mostly used the traditional method of registering copyright claims with the Library of Congress which is expensive, time consuming an not user friendly to use online, but a pretty solid way to protect your material.
Many years ago, when I first began writing songs, I copyrighted individual songs...I think it was $17 each and you had to send in a lead sheet. Later, they accepted recordings and I learned about copyrighting collections. The prices and response time kept going up. A few days ago, I received a post from them saying they were switching to digital records and the return time had increased. (It was already close to two years.)
They also said I had ten days to respond to the mail or my claim would be dropped and my money was non refundable. In my experience, if you can get through the phone lines to talk to someone there, it will not be a nice person.
For me, a poor man's copyright was performing my songs on TV and having the copyright notice shown at the end of the performance with my name and claim. I did this years ago and I think my recording of the show would hold up in court. There are other ways beside the formal claim, but I still register claims for my material.
The first point stresses the fact that all works in the collection is by the same author and owned by the same claimant. Author and claimant for most will be the same. So if you are registering songs for a CD being released and two of the fourteen songs were written by you and someone else then those two songs would have to be registered separately. The cost through eCO would be $70. If it were done through songregistration.com the cost would be $29.95 for the two songs and $89.85 for the other twelve songs (three sets of four songs each). A total of $119.80 which would cost $49.80 than registering through eCO. These basic amounts are what I am finding on the Copyright.gov and songregistration.com websites. If I'm missing something please speakup.
Point two says the works are to be contained in the same unit of publication. So all the songs being registered must be on one CD. If you are releasing a 2-CD set I guess that would be considered one collection. It makes sense but it would be advisable to check to be sure. When I see "publication" I also think of song books. If you had a song book of all your songs written out that could be registered as one publication. My guess is you would have to publish it yourself, a PDF probably works, with front and back covers, copyright notices, a table of contents, etc. Today this is much easier to do than a decade or more ago. You have to remember that once you register the publication there is no changing it - no rearranging the song order, no taking songs out of it, etc. Doing so would require a separate registration for the new version. The cost to register a book of 24 songs would be $179.70 if songregistration.com were used. Using eCO the cost would still be $35. Again, if I'm missing some fee(s) or something let me know.
Here's are couple pages describing the copyright process:
Copyrighting Your Songs (READ this - there is very good info here)
How to Copyright a Collection of Songs
I'm not seeing where the Songwriter Success Group registers a copyright for your songs?