You are correct that you do have copyright protection for your creative work as soon as you create it. This is known as “automatic copyright protection” and it applies to a wide range of creative works, including music. Under automatic copyright protection, you have the exclusive right to control the use and distribution of your work.
However, while automatic copyright protection does offer some legal protection, it is limited in scope and may not provide the full range of protections available under federal copyright law. By formally filing for a copyright, you can qualify for additional protections and remedies that are not available under automatic copyright protection.
For example, if you have filed for a copyright and someone uses your work without your permission, you may be able to seek higher damages and attorney’s fees in a lawsuit. This is because the Copyright Act provides for enhanced damages in cases of “willful infringement,” which is more likely to be found when the copyright owner has registered their work with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Additionally, registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office can also make it easier to enforce your rights and protect your work from unauthorized use. For example, if you have a registered copyright, you can send a “cease and desist” letter to someone using your work without your permission, which can often be enough to stop the infringement. If the infringement continues, you can also file a lawsuit to seek damages and other remedies.
Overall, while automatic copyright protection does offer some legal protection for your creative work, filing for a formal copyright can provide additional protections and remedies that can help you more effectively enforce your rights and protect your work, but usually only if you file for the work prior to the infringement! It is therefore generally advisable for musical artists to file for a copyright before releasing their music to the public.