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Should I Join ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC?

By: Jerry A. Greene

Question: Should I join ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC?


Answer: The answer to this really depends on your personal preferences.

First thing you must realize is that SESAC is usually very hard to get into, unless you are already having great success in the music's almost like you have to be invited to join. For most composers, songwriter, or publishers, this isn't an option..

This leaves, ASCAP vs BMI. Now, this is my personal opinion, not because of my affiliation, but I "believe" ASCAP to be the better choice. My reason for this is that ASCAP was founded and is still run by the composers, authors and publishers which makes up it's membership. BMI, on the other hand, is run by broadcasters, and are generally the same people that don't want to pay for use of music (broadcasters make money through advertising, and the more of it they can keep, the better). This seems, to me anyway, to be a conflict of interest. I would rather have people on my side, helping me to make a living from my music.


As a writer, you can only belong to one of the 3 performing rights organizations. As a publisher, you can belong to all 3, which is important if you want to publish other writers' works. If you are going to self publish, please bear in mind that a publisher can only publish songs owned by a member of that organization.

Both ASCAP and BMI fight for the top spot in the music industry. They both want to be known as being the best and paying their members the most money. Which pays more? Well, from what I heard lately, BMI seems to pay out bigger in the beginning, adding bonuses to member that get their songs into the mainstream quickly, but then the money tapers off. ASCAP seems to pay a more steady rate over the long haul and (usually) a better income over time. This is all subjective though because it relies on so many factors including where the song is on the charts and how the competition is doing. There are never any 2 songs doing exactly the same thing on the charts and also getting the most cover recordings and other performing rights. The best way to tell how each organization pays its members is for a song to be owned by an ASCAP writer and publisher (50%) and a BMI writer and publisher (50%) and then compare the income.



To order copyright forms from the U.S. Copyright Office, call the Federal Information Office toll-free at 1-800-688-9889

To ask specific questions about the copyright process, call the Copyright Office at 202-707-5959 or 202 707-9100. (These numbers are not toll-free).

Online you can visit the U.S. Copyright Office website to download the appropriate copyright form.

Form PA: For published or unpublished works.
Form SR: For sound recordings.

Instructions are provided at the website. The PA Form is used for copyrighting songs. The SR Form is used for copyrighting sound recordings.

Money-Saving Tip: The copyright registration fee (currently $45) covers either one song OR an entire collection of songs. So instead of copyrighting each song separately, you can save money by copyrighting many songs at the same time and registering "Collections" of your songs. For example: "Great Songs By (Your Name) 2009."


Electronic Copyrwrite Filing..


eCO Online System

File a copyright registration for your work through the Copyright Office online system.

Before using the service, we recommend you first read eCO Acceptable File Types, eCO Tips, eCO FAQs, or eCO Tutorial (PowerPoint) eCO Tutorial (PDF). For recently added features, see eCO Updates.

Advantages include:

  • Lower filing fee of $35 for a basic claim (for online filings only)

  • Fastest processing time

  • Online status tracking

  • Secure payment by credit or debit card, electronic check, or Copyright Office deposit account

  • The ability to upload certain categories of deposits directly into eCO as electronic files

  • Available 24 hours a day, except for routine maintenance every Sunday from 12:00 midnight to 6:00 AM Eastern Time

Processing Time: The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the number of applications the Office is receiving and clearing at the time of submission and the extent of questions associated with the application.
Current Processing Times

Login to eCO:



Alternate Methods:

1) Registration with Fill-In Form CO

The next best option for registering basic claims is the new fill-in Form CO, which replaces Forms TX, VA, PA, SE, and SR.Using 2D barcode scanning technology, the Office can process Form CO submissions (when properly completed by the submitter) more efficiently than paper forms. Simply complete Form CO on your personal computer, print it out, and mail it along with a check or money order and your deposit. The fee for a basic registration on Form CO is $50.

Note: Form CO cannot be used for group registrations. Click here for group registration forms.

Copyright Office application forms are available in PDF format and must be viewed with version 8 or higher of the free Adobe Acrobat Reader program.

# Form CO
# Form CO Instructions
# Form CO FAQ

Important Note: Please inspect your printed form to confirm that 2D barcodes like the one below appear on each page. The barcodes must appear clearly and be free of any distortions, smudges, or fading. If such problems appear and cannot be corrected after checking your printer, do not submit the form.

Sample 2-D barcode

Processing Time: The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the number of applications the Office is receiving and clearing at the time of submission and the extent of questions associated with the application.
Current Processing Times

Please note that our mail service is severely disrupted.(Read more details.)


2) Registration with Paper Forms

Paper versions of Form TX (literary works); Form VA (visual arts works); Form PA (performing arts works, including motion pictures); Form SR (sound recordings); and Form SE (single serials) are still available. The fee for a basic registration using one of these forms is $65 payable by check or money order. Form CON (continuation sheet for applications) is also still available in paper. These paper forms are not accessible on the Copyright Office website; however, staff will send them to you by postal mail upon request. Remember that online registration through eCO and fill-in Form CO (see above) can be used for the categories of works applicable to Forms TX, VA, PA, SR, and SE.

Processing Time: The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the number of applications the Office is receiving and clearing at the time of submission and the extent of questions associated with the application.
Current Processing Times




U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20559-6000
(202) 707-3000

Revised: 18-Oct-2010





Why independent songwriters should register the copyright for their music

[This article is written by guest contributor Anthony Ceseri.]

Please Note: This article discusses opinions on copyrighting your music and should not be considered legal advice. If you’re unsure about how the copyright laws in your country will affect you, please contact a lawyer before proceeding.

When you submit a song for copyright you’re simply proving the date of submission of your work. The fine folks of the copyright office don’t sit around listening to every submission to see if they’ve heard it before. That would be an impossible task. When you write or record your song, technically, you’ve created it — and thus you own the copyright to it. By submitting a song to the copyright office, you’re protecting your music simply by acknowledging the date of its creation.

It’s also important to note that certain aspects of your song are not protected even if you’ve registered the copyright. These include:

* chord progressions

* the overall idea or concept of your song

* and a title or short phrase

Just think about how many songs have used cliche ideas like “I wish you were here,” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Also, imagine how many copyright infringements there would be if the I – V – vi – IV chord progression could be copyrighted. On the other hand, melodies and the actual lyrics are very much covered under copyright protection.

Beginning the copyright registration process

The website for submitting your song for copyright in the United States is On this website, you’ll be able to print forms for mailing in the music you want to copyright, or you can submit your music for copyright online, which makes submitting even easier.

When it comes time to copyrighting your music, there are two forms you can use as a songwriter. They are Form SR and Form PA. Technically, there are three forms, if you consider the fact that there’s also a short-form version of the PA form. But that offers the same protection as the PA form. SR stands for Sound Recording, while PA stands for Performing Arts. So how do you know which one to use? The following is from the Copyright Office’s website and will answer that for you:

When to Use Form SR (Sound Recordings)

Use Form SR for registration of published or unpublished sound recordings, that is, for registration of the particular sounds or recorded performance.

Form SR must also be used if you wish to make one registration for both the sound recording and the underlying work (the musical composition, dramatic, or literary work). You may make a single registration only if the copyright claimant is the same for both the sound recording and the underlying work. In this case, the authorship statement in Space 2 should specify that the claim covers both works.

Form SR is also the appropriate form for registration of a multimedia kit that combines two or more kinds of authorship including a sound recording (such as a kit containing a book and an audiocassette).

When to Use Form PA (Performing Arts)

For registration purposes, musical compositions and dramatic works that are recorded on disks or cassettes are works of the performing arts and should be registered on Form PA or Short Form PA. Therefore, if you wish to register only the underlying work that is a musical composition or dramatic work, use Form PA even though you may send a disk or cassette.

Examples of the Proper Use of Forms PA and SR

Jane Smith composes words and music, which she entitles “Blowing in the Breeze.” Even though she records it, she is not interested in registering the particular recording but only in registering the composition itself. If she decides to submit “Blowing in the Breeze” for copyright registration, she should use Form PA.

Emily Tree performs and records Jane Smith’s “Blowing in the Breeze” after complying with permissions and license procedures. If Emily decides to submit her recording for copyright registration, she should use Form SR.

The same principles apply to literary and dramatic works. A recorded performance of an actor speaking lines from “Hamlet” could be registered on Form SR as a sound recording. The claimant in the sound recording, of course, has no copyright in the underlying work, “Hamlet.”

Copyright registration costs…

There is a cost associated with each application, whether it’s a Form PA or From SR. Check the Copyright Office’s website for the most up-to-date fees. The good news is, if you’re copyrighting your own music, you can submit multiple songs under one application for one application fee. So if you’re copyrighting an album of ten songs, as opposed to copyrighting them one by one, you’ll save a few hundred bucks when protecting your work. Plus it saves you the paperwork of copyrighting all of your songs separately.

Poor-Man’s Copyright, and Other No-No’s

It’s also worth mentioning that there are a couple makeshift copyright alternatives that songwriters occasionally like to talk about. I don’t recommend doing these. The most popular is called the “Poor Man’s Copyright.” This is when you physically mail a recording of your song to yourself via certified mail and keep it sealed. Supposedly the postmark on the envelope will date your music and therefore protect you if someone comes along after that and steals your song. A newer version of this idea is simply putting your song on YouTube or another time-stamped social media outlet. The idea is that your music is dated and therefore protected by the time stamp on the social media site.

All I can say about these kinds of alternatives is — DON’T DO THEM! Their ideas may make sense to you, but if it ever came down to a court battle, you would absolutely want your music properly registered with the copyright office. Especially considering the fact that it’s really not that expensive if you submit a whole collection of songs at once. Taking the proper means to protect your music is something all artists should do as they move forward with their music careers.

Now that you have a background on how to get your music copyrighted, move forward with the process so you can get your music out to the masses and get heard!

For a lot more useful songwriting information, grab my free EBook here:

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