Legally any work is copyrighted the minute it's been recorded in tangible media (notation, score, recording, notes, drafts, etc. The more precises the better)
The problem is the prove what is yours... And this is where registration comes in.
You can NEVER prove that something is yours. It's impossible to prove that. But what you CAN do is to prove that at a specific time and onwards this work appears under your name. So if I go to the copyright office in the US and try to register "Let it be" someone else has beaten me by a few decades. Had I registered it first it would've been mine.
BTW, in the US, copyright infrigment is a federal offence and thus handled by federal courts, which ONLY accept copyright registration from the US copyright office and nothing else.
Absolutely spot on! It is so automatic that many people don't seem to realize that the moment you publish, disseminate, record, share, print or howl from the rooftops, you are pretty much covered. You can go to the hassle of registration if you wish.
But astonishingly few copyright challenges are ever launched against composers ... and "derivative" is a pretty loose word. I hear a heck of a lof of Rachmaninoff buried in a heck of a lot of MIDI music.
My personal take on this is pragmatic. I want my music to be enjoyed and played by young musicians around the world. I want to make that as easy as possible for them ... in terms of accessing my music, listening to it, downloading it and getting it free.
"WHY?" ask so many of my friends. Precisely because I am pragmatic. I will make more money simply teaching a few students than getting buyers to purchse my sheet music. Particularly nowadays with so much free music available. What do I want ultimately? I want in a hundred years time for some little student to tell his teacher, " I want to play that one .... I want to play "Ivanka"" ... or any of the dozens of pieces I've written for beginning students. I want a little face to light up with pleasure ... I want children to love my music as much as I loved certain pieces in my early primers. And the easiest way to make this happen is to get that music out there .... available.
So for each piece of music I provide a few tips on playing it, an easily read score ( with apoligies to Nikolas for my minimalist format ...
) with fingerings included filed as a downloadable PDF file ... plus a You Tube recording so they can hear the music too, before downloading it. I make it astonishingly easy to access my music. Because I want it to be played. That is my goal.
I'm not making money ... I'm spinning dreams. I only ask at the end of each blog post that I be acknowleged as the composer if anyone chooses to include a piece in a published collection. And each score bears the copyright symbol and date of composition with my rather odd name.