Copyright Registration

By Nick Landis on Wednesday Sep, 5th 2018

Copyright can be used as a noun, verb or adjective and describes the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something. Previously in this blog, Carlos Alvarez from Azteca Records wrote a four-part series on music publishing. In Crash Course on Music Publishing - Part 1 the very first thing he talks about is copyright. Copyright law is nuanced and just creating something and having it in tangible form creates a copyright in most cases the way I understand it, but if an issue arises the trick is proving it. Registration of a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office will help solidify your claim of authorship and ownership.

There are basically two different types of works you can copyright for most songwriters and bands. Since that is the bulk of my audience here, I'll add parenthetical notes that there may be more info that might not always pertain to songs, recordings, and most of what my audience on this blog may need. The first type is a Work of the Performing Arts and the scond is a Sound Recording.

Work of the Performing Arts (Form PA)

A musical work is a separate work from a recorded performance of the musical work (the sound recording). Sound recordings are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture. This would be the lyrics and melody for most of my audience here. If your claim includes both the musical work and the recorded performance of that work, register as a Sound Recording instead.

Works commonly registered under a Work of the Performing Arts copyright.

  • Albums
  • Beats
  • Comedy Routines/Stand-Up Routines
  • Instrumentation
  • Jingles
  • Live Concerts
  • Lyrics
  • Method/Musical Instruction Books
  • Mix Tapes
  • Music
  • Music & Lyrics
  • Musicals (Song/Script)
  • Podcasts
  • Remixes/Mashups
  • Sampling
  • Songs
  • Sound Recordings
  • Soundtracks
  • Spoken Word Recordings
  • TV/Radio Broadcasts

Sound Recordings (Form SR)

Generally, a sound recording is a recorded performance of a work. In law in the United States, the Copyright Act states that performing a work as

the means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible.

- 17 U.S.C. § 101

A sound recording must be fixed, meaning that the sounds must be captured in a medium from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated. The author may fix the sounds in a digital track, disk, tape, or other formats.

A sound recording and the recorded work (such as music and lyrics) may be registered with one application only if (i) the author(s) named in the application contributed to both works, or (ii) if the copyright claimant owns all rights in both works through a written transfer of copyright.

The information you will need in order to register a sound recording copyright:

  1. Title
  2. Publication
  3. Author
  4. Type of Authorship
  5. Limitation of Claim

More info about registering copyrights for sound recordings can be found in Circular 56. This document is directly from the U.S. Copyright office and has lots of great information in it.

How to Register a Copyright

  • Go to the U.S. Copyright Office Registration Page
  • Create an account or log in to your existing account
  • Click on "Standard Application" under Register a Work (Recommended for Most Works)
  • To complete the form you will need:
    • Provide all required information on the application form
    • Pay the required fee
    • Upload (or mail in) a copy of your work
  • When you're ready to start, click "Start Registration"
  • The first question will be what Type of Work that you're registering. If you're a musician (most of my audience here) you will most likely be choosing between Sound Recording or Work of the Performing Arts
    • Sound Recording is for the recording of a song. In some cases, if you are the author of the sound recording and the author of the song you can register both the recording and the song with just this form.
    • Work of the Performing Arts is for compositions only, like the melody and lyrics of a song. It is possible to register a group of songs all at once to save time and money, but it will not register the recording of the song if you have one to register a copyright as well. 
  • Fill out the rest of the form
  • Pay the fee
  • Submit the form

From what I can tell on the FAQ page of the copyright office, most electronically submitted take about 7 months (+/-4 months) to process.