Can I copyright songs from multiple years on one application?

July 31, 2012

Dear Music Lawyer,

I am in the process of copyrighting a dozen or so songs. All the songs were written/owned by one person only. All music, lyrics, arrangements, recording, mixing, etc. was the work of only one person. The songs, however, were written in different years.

I wish to register all the songs under one title (album) with the individual songs listed as Contents Titles. It appears that I cannot assign different completion dates to the individual songs, I can only use one date for the entire work. Does this make any difference?

I spoke to the Copyright Office and they said that to "copyright them as a whole album will have no bearing on future use." My concern is that I had a computer stolen with some of these songs on it, and I want to copyright them with the correct dates.

Should I copyright them as individual songs with their corresponding dates (and pay $35 per song) or is this redundant?


Dear Beatriz,

Looks like you have done your homework!

As you've discovered, the only way that you can currently get the U.S. Copyright Office records to reflect different creation dates is to register the works on separate applications. Having an accurate creation date in the copyright registration records might be helpful if someone later tries to say that you copied the songs and there's a dispute about the creation date. (Of course, if there was a formal dispute such as a lawsuit, much more than just the Copyright Office records could be used to prove creation date.)

Given your concern about your stolen computer, it sounds like preparing separate copyright applications would keep the record straight and serve to ease your mind. However, you probably do not need to register each song on a separate application.

My preferred strategy with unpublished collections of songs is to register songs grouped by year. That way, you save money on filing fees AND get the proper creation year. It's also just a good habit to be in if you are a prolific writer and want to protect your work through copyright registration. For example, you could have "Beatriz's Songs - 2010" on one application. Then you could have "Beatriz's Songs - 2011" on another application. You get the picture.

If you are preparing to release an album, then you would be wise to register all of the sound recordings on one application using the year of release. You could even add notes at the end of that application stating that the musical compositions embodied in the sound recordings were created between the years 2009 and 2012 (or whatever the case may be) and have been registered with the Copyright Office on separate applications. (Bear in mind that those notes do not appear in the publicly searchable database. My understanding is that the application can be retrieved later though so it could potentially be useful in the event of a dispute/lawsuit.)

I hope that helps!

—Amy E. Mitchell is maintained by experienced Austin music lawyer Amy E. Mitchell. Please feel free to ask any music law related questions. You will be notified by email when your question has been selected for response, and the response will be posted on this site.

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