Five Tips for Obtaining Copyright Registration

Obtaining a copyright and registering a copyright are two separate concepts.  The Copyright Act states that copyright vests the moment an original work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  Registration, however, grants the copyright owner additional rights and allows a copyright owner to file an infringement suit, and to request statutory damages and attorney’s fees. The best part: it should not require an attorney or excessive fees.   In fact, a few simple tips can really ensure an easy and stress fee registration process for any copyright owner registering a work for themselves.

1. Knowing Your (Copy)Rights: Sound Recording and/or Musical Composition:

One of the most important things to keep in my mind when trying to register a recording with the copyright office is that you may actually have two distinct copyrights in one recording.  First, the musical composition exists in the melody, chord progression, and lyrics that make up the musical work.  Second, the sound recording copyright exists in the actual recording made of that musical work.  If a singer songwriter creates the musical composition and then records that composition, the same person will own both copyrights – musical composition and sound recording.  If, however, a songwriter creates a song and another third party records that song (such as an artist, producer and/or band), the songwriter will only own the musical composition while the artist, producer, and band own the sound recording (in varying percentages) of the song.  Often, a recording artist will assign that right in the sound recording to a record label, while a songwriter might assign rights in the musical composition to a music publisher.

2. Combining Registration for a Musical Work and a Sound Recording into one application:

Typically, if the two copyrights have different authors, then a song requires two separate applications.  A sound recording application is designated as SR, or Sound Recording, and a musical composition is designated as PR, or Performance Arts. However, the Copyright Office does offer exceptions to this rule.

If the author or authors of the musical composition and sound recording are the same, copyright registration can be obtained for both works in one application. If this were the case, you would use the sound recording application, and specify that this registration include both the sound recording and the underlying musical composition to that sound recording. In the event the same authors do not own the sound recording and musical composition, then multiple applications for one song are required.

3. Registering a Collection of Work

A collection of works is comprised of several creative works that make up one larger work.  For example, an album entitled “Your Album Name Here” might contain three different songs. All three songs (and recordings, if the authors of the songs are the same as those of the recording) can be registered under one application as a collective work. Under the Copyright Office’s online registration systems, an author can file up to fifty (50) separate works under one registration form.

Registering a collection of works can procedurally differ depending upon whether or not the several works have been published or unpublished. In the copyright act, a “published” work is one that has been distributed to the public by sale or another form of transferring ownership such as rental or lease. In order to register a previously published collection of works, the publication should represent first publication of all the works included in that publication.   Thus, the publication cannot have individual works that were previously published outside of the collection that you seek to register.  Further, the works in that publication must have the same author.  If not, ask we’ve highlighted above, then those authors need to transfer their copyrights to each other (joint authorship) or have a common claimant.  When the authors are different and refuse to share ownership, then they need to file separate applications for those works and pay separate application fees.

If you have a collection of unpublished works, they too can be registered with one application and one fee under certain conditions.  When registering such a group of unpublished works, they should be registered under a “collective title.”  Further, one author must have contributed to every work.  Lastly, as with published collective works, the author of the works must be the same, or, multiple authors must agree to share ownership, or multiple authors must transfer the ownership to a third party.  Often, this type of registration will work for an album by a single author or by joint authors.  Do not forget, however, to take into consideration the ownerships in both copyrights—sound recording and musical composition—when deciding whether or not you can register the album as a collective work.

4. Choose the Correct Type of Work!

On the application, a copyright owner will have to decide which category to register a work in—Literary Work, Visual Art, Performance Art, Sound Recording, or Motion Picture/Audiovisual Work.  Selecting the right type of work will help ensure that you do not receive a rejection from the copyright office.  Further, choosing the correct application is important as you cannot change the category without starting a brand new application. The Literary Work category will cover the musical composition, and the Sound Recording category will cover the sound recording copyright.  If you are the same author of both, make sure to select both categories on your application.

5. Register Your Copyright Online

Registering online is easy! By registering your copyright online, you avoid the hassle that comes with a paper application, and it is easy enough to do without professional guidance.  On www.copyright.gov, you only need to follow three simple steps: 1) complete an application 2) pay with a credit card through a secured payment system backed by the U.S. treasury and 3) submit your work by uploading files.  Alternatively, if you register works often, you can have a deposit account established with the Copyright Office.  An online application costs thirty-five (35) dollars while a paper application costs sixty-five (65) dollars.  Registering online also allows you to check the status of the application by logging into your account.

Now, you may be wondering about what the actual application looks like.  After you set up a user name and password on www.copyright.gov, you can log into the eCO, or electronic copyright office, and file a new claim.  After clicking on “register a new claim” on the left side of the screen, you are guided to a screen that includes the instructions for Step 1: Complete an Application, Step 2: Make Payment, and Step 3: Submit your Work.  After reading these instructions, you can click on the “Start Registration” button.  After reading through the types of works, select the “Type of Work” dropdown, and carefully make your choice.  Remember, once the type of work is selected and the application is submitted, it cannot be changed.  On the next page, you will be asked to enter the titles.  Here, if you have multiple titles in a collection of works, by the same author, you can enter all of the titles you would like to register.  After titles have been entered, the following page will ask whether or not the work has been published, that is, whether or not the work has been distributed to the public.  With online publication, you should put down the first date that it was uploaded to the Internet for public distribution, and put down the nation in which it was uploaded.  On the next page, you will need to name all of the authors of the work. If you have transferred your copyright to a third party claimant, such as a record label or publishing company, then you can name the claimant on the next page. The following page entitled “Limitation of Claim” is particularly relevant if you are registering a work that contains preexisting material.  For example, if your sound recording contains a sample of another sound recording, you should describe that on this page.

The last sections of the application are mostly administrative.  On “Rights & Permissions,” you must provide contact information so that the copyright office can contact you or a chosen third party with regards to managing the copyright information or obtaining permission to use the work you are registering.  If there are questions about this application, the following section, “Correspondent,” provides the copyright office with the contact of the person who can best answer those questions.  “Mail Certificate” simply allows you to name a person and address so that the copyright office can mail your certificate of registration. The “Certification” page requires that the author, copyright claimant, owner of the exclusive rights to the work sign, or authorized agent provide a signature/authorization for this application.  From there, hit submit!

That’s (mostly) all that is to it. In the event you wish to obtain additional guidance or are dealing with a complex ownership issue, feel free to contact us to discuss your matter in greater detail.

Researched and written by Nadia Makki, Legal Intern

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