If you've recorded a fantastic piece of music that you're particularly proud of but are not signed to a record label and do not have your work in the public domain, you're going to want to copyright it to ensure that nobody can steal your ideas to use in their own work or produce a wholesale rip-off of your track. There are a number of steps you can take to establish ownership of your work, but it's best to go through the proper channels if you want complete protection.
Make a Record of Your Work
If your work is only in your head and there is no tangible recorded version of it in existence, proving ownership is near on impossible. Make a recording of your track, and it will be automatically protected under an assumed copyright in the U.S. if the work was written after April 1, 1989. If you're recording your work electronically, you can add date and time tags to further support your ownership and date of creation.
"Poor Man's Copyright"
The traditional method of establishing ownership by "poor man's copyright" is to send yourself a copy of your work in a sealed envelope. When it's delivered, you leave it sealed only to be opened in a court of law to prove ownership if you identify a breach of your rights. Since the birth of the Internet, this can now be done electronically by emailing yourself or a third party an electronic file containing your work or uploading it to a social media or music streaming site. Poor man's copyright is not recognized under U.S. law and is not the most effective way to establish your rights over a work.
Online Filing Service
Companies like Legalzoom and Gocopyright can manage the whole process of copyrighting your work from $89 plus the basic $35 government filing fee, as of November 2010. Once you submit your request, these proxy companies will submit all the necessary paperwork on your behalf and confirm your rights with the Library of Congress.
U.S. Copyright Office
By far the best way to protect your work is registering it directly with the U.S. Copyright Office. The cost of registering a work starts at $35, as of November 2010, and there are number of options available to offer added protection. Not copyrighting your work or using a method that does not involve having it officially registered could end up costing you more than the fees involved if your work is illegally copied.