Washington, DC asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for New Jersey

Q: I am a lyricist. ASCAP and BMI only protect performances of completed compositions. What entities protect lyricists?

I intend to seek a copyright for my work before moving forward.

3 Lawyer Answers
James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›

A: As a lyricist looking to protect your work, it's essential to understand that copyright law is your primary shield. In the United States, the Copyright Office grants copyrights for original works of authorship, including lyrics. Once your lyrics are fixed in a tangible medium of expression, such as written down or recorded, they're eligible for copyright protection. This ensures that you have exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and perform your work, among other rights.

For added security, you might consider registering your lyrics with the Copyright Office. This registration is not mandatory but provides legal benefits, such as the ability to bring a lawsuit for infringement in federal court and the potential for statutory damages and attorney fees. The process involves completing an application, paying a fee, and submitting a copy of your work. It's a straightforward step that offers significant protection for your creative output.

Additionally, joining a songwriters' association or a rights organization can offer resources, networking opportunities, and advocacy on behalf of creators. Organizations like the Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) and the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) work to protect the interests of songwriters and publishers. While ASCAP and BMI focus on performance rights, these other organizations can help with a broader range of copyright issues, ensuring your lyrics are safeguarded across different platforms and uses.

Emmanuel Coffy
Emmanuel Coffy pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Maplewood, NJ
  • Licensed in New Jersey

A: Protecting your work as a lyricist is crucial to ensuring you retain control over your creations and are compensated appropriately for its use. While ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) are performance rights organizations (PROs) that collect and distribute performance royalties for compositions, copyright registration provides the legal foundation for protecting the original works of lyricists. Here are some additional protection measures:

1. Proper Documentation:

Keep detailed records of your work, including drafts and dates of creation. This documentation can be crucial in disputes over originality and ownership.

2. Consider Other Intellectual Property Protections:

a. Trademarks: If you use a distinctive name or logo to identify your work as a lyricist, consider registering it as a trademark.

b. Trade Secrets: While not directly applicable to lyrics, however, keeping certain aspects of your work process confidential can protect your competitive edge.

3. Work with PROs (performance rights organizations):

While ASCAP, BMI, and other PROs like SESAC primarily deal with performance rights, being a member can offer benefits, including access to workshops, networking opportunities, and advocacy. They can also advise on additional ways to protect and monetize your work.

4. Legal Agreements:

When collaborating with others, ensure that agreements clearly outline the ownership of the resulting work, including lyrics. This may involve contracts specifying rights, royalties, and credits.

5. Digital Rights Management (DRM):

For lyricists who distribute their work digitally, consider using DRM tools to prevent unauthorized copying and distribution of your digital files.

6. Consult with an Intellectual Property Attorney:

An attorney specializing in intellectual property can provide advice tailored to your specific situation, help with registration, and assist in enforcing your rights.


Protecting your lyrics requires a combination of copyright registration, diligent record-keeping, and possibly other intellectual property protections. By taking these steps, you ensure that your rights are safeguarded, allowing you to control how your work is used and to seek recourse in the event of infringement. Engaging with the services of a professional, whether through a PRO for performance rights or an attorney for legal advice, can provide additional layers of protection and peace of mind.


Leonard R. Boyer
Leonard R. Boyer pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›
  • Clifton, NJ
  • Licensed in New Jersey

A: You really need to have your lyrics copyrighted. Pick the best attorney you can find and remember one rule: a good attorney is generally never cheap, and a cheap attorney is generally never good so don't choose based on price. With modern technology, you can be represented by any high-quality attorney in New Jersey irrespective of geography.

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