...all my songs are copyrighted, without assistance from ASCAP or BMI. Itís easy to do. Just fill out a form, write a check for $30, and send a copy of the work to be copyrighted. These days the forms are available online at http://www.copyright.gov/forms. Form TX is for literary works, and Form SR is for sound recordings. I copyright an entire cassette or CD at a time rather than pay $30 every time I write a song. I specify for each track which of the following I am copyrighting: words, music, arrangement and/or performance. I state on my CD covers that my recordings are copyrighted in my name. All rights reserved. This means exactly what it says. As the exclusive owner of the copyright, I enjoy the exclusive right of public performance and, BMI notwithstanding, the exclusive right to profit from their performance
I have carefully preserved over the years photocopies of nearly every traditional song in my repertoire, in order to prove their antiquity.
Finally, a successful conclusion:
... a response from Marilyn Kretsinger, Assistant General Counsel. I should not have been surprised. John McHugh had stood up for north country artists before, and no doubt he will do it again. Marilyn Kretsinger upheld each of my contentions. In her words, "BMI has the authority to issue a license only for those songs that are in its catalogue of representation." If the performance venue does not "publicly perform songs represented by BMI," then a BMI license is not needed. She further stated: "With respect to the musical compositions that Mr. Phillips has authored, no performance license is necessary since Mr. Phillips is the copyright owner of those songs." With respect to traditional folk songs in the public domain, if I am "not performing a copyrighted arrangement of a public domain folk song, then a BMI license is not required.
The opinion has far-reaching implications for independent musicians and for the entrepreneurs who hire them. No venue is in need of a performance license unless one or more of its musicians are performing compositions or arrangements copyrighted and licensed through ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. The copyright owner enjoys exclusive performance rights and, therefore, the exclusive right to profit from their performance. The point is so obvious that it has never been litigated, which makes this a landmark decision. The full texts of the Copyright Office opinion and all related correspondence are available online at http://www.northnet.org/minstrel
The whole story is here, and well worth taking the time to read for a performing musician: The Richard Phillips vs BMI Story