How many copyright applications to register three songs on iTunes?

October 1, 2013

Dear Music Lawyer,

I recorded two original songs and one cover song and put them through iTunes as a single. When I try to copyright the album online through the Copyright Office, I'm confused as I thought you could register the entire album and pay only one fee. But since I have three separate singles, can I still pay one fee, or do I have to register each single one by one (and pay a fee for every single)?


Dear Oliver,

First, you need to be clear on whether you are trying to register the sound recording copyright or the musical composition copyright or both. Recall that the sound recording copyright covers the particular recorded performance (think master), and the musical composition copyright covers the words and music (think song).

If you recorded and own 100% of the sound recording copyright in all three recordings and released them as an album, then you could register the sound recording copyright of all three on one copyright application. You can list the individual track names under "contents."

As for registering the copyright in the musical compositions, you could register the two original songs on one copyright application if you are the sole author. However, if you have any co-writers, then you can only register them on the same application if the authorship of both songs is identical. For example, if you wrote Song #1 with Bob and Song #2 with Sally, you would need to complete two copyright applications. If you wrote both songs with Bob, then you could still use one copyright application.

Bear in mind that you can't register the copyright in the musical composition in the cover song since, by definition, you are recording someone else's song (i.e., you can't claim to own someone else's words and music).

Note: If you did a unique arrangement of the cover song, then you might be able to claim a copyright in your arrangement (excluding the existing musical composition), but you have to be careful that you didn't create a derivative work that requires permission from the copyright holder of the existing song. Unfortunately, it's not always clear when you have crossed the line into creating a derivative work, but I generally advise, at a minimum, to avoid altering lyrics or changing the fundamental melody/chord structure.

—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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