Registering Copyrights: Why and How

May 27, 2006 · Print This Article

When you put pen to paper and write an original song, you have created and acquired a copyright. Registering that copyright, however, has several added benefits:

1) Registration creates a public record of your claim of copyright.

2) Registration is required before suing someone for copyright infringement in court.

3) If you register the song within five years of publication, that registration will serve as evidence of the validity of your copyright and the facts on your registration certificate.

4) Registration allows the copyright owner to sign up with U.S. Customs for protection against importation of pirated copies of your music.

5) Perhaps most importantly, if you register within three months of publication or prior to infringement of your song(s), statutory damages and attorneys’ fees will be available in a court action. If you have a claim of copyright infringement, one of the first questions your lawyer will ask is when you registered your copyright. The answer can have substantial monetary implications.

There are two separate copyrights that generally apply to songwriters, the musical work and the sound recording. A musical work is the song itself, regardless of who performs it. A sound recording results from an actual recording of a song (e.g. cd, mp3). So, in many instances, two copyrights come into play, the musical work and the specific recording of the song (sound recording).

It is important to distinguish between the musical work and the sound recording when registering a copyright. If you record someone else’s song, you should register the sound recording, but not the musical work, which belongs to someone else. And you should be sure to pay mechanical royalties (but that discussion is for another day).

How to Register a Copyright:

Registering a copyright in a musical work and/or a sound recording with the U.S. Copyright Office is as simple as filling out a form and paying a relatively small filing fee.

If you are registering just a musical work (the song itself), use form PA.

If you are registering just a sound recording (e.g. you recorded someone else’s song), use form SR.

If you are registering both a musical work and a sound recording together (e.g. you recorded an original song to be released on cd), use form SR.


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