Instrumental compositions are copyrighted, just as songs (words and music) are copyrighted. In the U.S., copyright becomes automatically effective the moment the instrumental composition or song is "fixed" into a tangible means of expression. This may be as early as its creation if it is fixed in a physical recording, or later when it is first distributed to others.
Generally speaking, copyright protection extends for 95 years after the author's death. If you want your work to be considered derivative rather than original, then you should register it with the Copyright Office before it expires.
An album of songs costs $35 in the United States or $50 elsewhere. Instrumental creations, like songs (words and melody), are not copyrighted. In the United States, copyright takes effect immediately the minute an instrumental piece or song is "fixed" into a concrete medium of expression. However, most musicians protect their work by registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office. This registration is also important for determining how long a musician can prevent others from copying their work.
If a musician does not register his or her work, anyone may copy it freely once it enters the public domain. The world-wide-web makes copies of songs widely available, so almost all songs enter the public domain within a few years of being released. Musicians can still make money off of old songs by performing them or selling merchandise related to them.
Old songs can also be covered by new artists, which means they can become popular again. For example, Nirvana's version of The Beatles' classic song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" went on to become a hit in its own right. Because covering songs is allowed under U.S. law, musicians cannot claim ownership of these covers. Neither can record companies; instead, they rely on licensing agreements for the rights to cover songs.
These are just some of the many factors that can cause songs to fall out of copyright protection.
Music compositions*, like other types of creative expression, are legally protected by copyright. A musical composition's copyrighted parts might include melody, chord progression, rhythm, and lyrics—anything that demonstrates a "minimal spark" of invention and originality. Without the protection provided by copyright, artists would have little incentive to create new works, as others could simply copy what they do well.
Although it is not necessary for a composer to register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office, most composers do so as a precautionary measure to secure the earliest possible copyright protection. The Copyright Act of 1976 allows for certain non-original works to be considered "inspired by" preexisting works and therefore not subject to legal action under copyright law. This "fair use" defense enables others to make use of these works without permission or liability.
For example, a musician might want to cover a popular song on their own album. If the covered song is also covered by another artist, the second artist cannot claim infringement because the first artist's work was deemed "fair use". In this case, only the original artist would be able to bring suit if they felt that their work had been infringed.
It is important to note that mere reproduction of a musical composition in written form does not constitute a violation of copyright.
In most cases, you'll need to obtain a copyright license in order to legally utilize an instrumental. The two exceptions are when you use an excerpt of the music for educational reasons or when the piece is so ancient that it has entered the public domain. In these cases, you can use the song without permission.
Generally speaking, you cannot get copyright protection for an instrumental. If you plan to sell recordings of your own work, however, there are two exceptions to this rule: one for compilations and another for "derivative works".
A compilation is defined as a collection of songs, usually by different artists, that are known together because they have a common theme or subject matter. For example, a compilation could be called "Great Songs from Great Movies" and would include songs from Harry Potter, Shrek, Star Wars, and many others. Compilations are given legal protection under U.S. copyright law because they serve to promote creativity by providing new opportunities for musicians to gain exposure for their work.
Derivative works are creations that contain elements of one original work but are not themselves eligible for federal copyright protection. For example, if you take a melody from a song and use it in another song, that latter song is a derivative work and requires its own copyright registration if it is to be protected.
However, most songs include additional elements that may not be considered copyrightable themselves, but which help make the song unique: instrumental breaks, background vocals, etc.
In general, only those elements of a song that can be separated from the rest of the work are copyrightable. The rest falls under the doctrine of "uniqueness", which means that similar works cannot be protected by copyright. For example, two songs with very similar melodies are unlikely to be held to be distinct enough to be protected by copyright; instead, they are considered part of a "public domain".
However, if a composer takes an existing piece of music and transforms it into a new song by adding or changing certain elements, then this is called "authorship" and will usually result in copyright being applied for and obtained. For example, if I write a song titled "Happy Birthday" and submit it to a recording company for release as a birthday present for my friend, he or she could copy part of the song (for example, the chorus) and use it without my permission as long as they change some details such as the key signature.
When music or lyrics are recorded, put on paper, or otherwise written down in a document—even if it's only a tweet or a crumpled napkin—the copyright is instantly formed. So as soon as you write something down that could be considered music or lyrics, you own the copyright to it.
It doesn't matter how you came by the material. If you wrote it down as part of your job, such as when you're employed as a musician or a singer, then you already have copyright to it. Even if you wrote it some time ago, once it's fixed in a tangible medium (such as print or software) you own the copyright to it.
So always keep copies of your work!
Also, don't forget to tell others when they've done something good with your material. For example, if someone uses one of your songs as their profile song on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter, then you should receive credit for it. There are many other ways to give credit, so check out our guide below for more information: https://www.songtrust.com/about-me/donating-your-copyright/
Now, if you want to protect your copyright, then you need to register it with the Copyright Office.