the right to copy a work and the right to prevent the unauthorized copying of a work
a property right – it can be treated in the same way as any other type of property (bought, sold and hired)
an economic right – the creator and the owner have the right to earn money from its exploitation
Once a work has fulfilled these criteria it is automatically in copyright. There are certain precautions that can be taken to safeguard copyright status but there are no formal copyright registration requirements in the UK (there are in the US). To some this seems unsatisfactory, they may want a copyright registration office where they can lodge their cassette/sheet music in case their music is ever plagiarised or pirated. But international copyright conventions, to which the UK is signatory, preclude such formalities.
In the UK copyright is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
However, there are certain precautions a writer can take:
S/he can send a copy of the tape or sheet music to him/herself by registered post and then leave the envelope unopened or s/he can lodge a copy with his or her bank manager or solicitor and take some sort of dated receipt.
S/he can register the title of the work with the copyright societies (MCPS & PRS).
S/he can make sure that any copies of the works which leave his/her possession go by a letter ( of which s/he keeps a copy)
Even though none of these precautions will do much more than establish a date, they can be useful supporting evidence in the event of a court case.
In the event of legal action over a work, a court might have to establish who has prior evidence of ownership and whether (in cases of claimed plagiarism) the infringing party had access to other work.
The above precautions might help in such eventualities. It should be noted that piracy/plagiarism situations are uncommon and a sense of proportion and precaution is the most appropriate attitude when considering protecting your rights.
Many disputes over works occur in cases of multiple authorship and it is important to understand how co-writer situations work. Without agreement/understanding to the contrary an original work is initially shared: 50% lyrics writer-50% music writer and individual writers can exploit their share individually.
It is quite normal, however, for co-writers (especially in bands) to consider all song writing to be a co-operative effort and to agree to equal shares, regardless of writing situations and a simple letter to the effect that 'it is hereby agreed that the writer shares the work 'Love My Baby' ( Smith/Jones) are 66.6% Smith and 33.3% Jones, Signed ... is quite sufficient.
A person who rearranges an existing copyright work (e.g. a musical arranger or a remixer) cannot have any claim to a share of the copyright in that work. But a person who rearranges non-copyright work (e.g. an old work that has gone out of copyright or a traditional work that never was in copyright) may claim a new copyright in their arrangement.
Copyright allows the copyright owner to give permission (or to restrict permission) for commercial exploitation of the musical work, that permission will normally be granted in consideration for royalties.