What copyright form do I file?

November 5, 2013

Dear Music Lawyer,

I wrote all the music and lyrics and took completed songs to a producer who created a production for them. Do we share the copyright and, if so, which form do I file?


Dear Sean,

First, remember that there are two copyrights in recorded music:

(1) the copyright in the musical composition or song (i.e., the music and lyrics); and

(2) the copyright in the sound recording or master (i.e., the recorded performance of the song).

From what you've described, it sounds like you own 100% of the copyright in the musical composition (Copyright #1) and can file a Form PA 100% in your name. However, without more information, it's unclear who owns the copyright in the sound recording (Copyright #2), which registration would be filed on a Form SR.

In my experience, most artists who hire producers expect that the artist will own the copyright in the masters that are produced, particularly if they paid for such production. (Note: Producer deals for rap/hip hop are usually handled differently.) Since a record producer can take the position that he/she authored (or at least co-created) the recordings, artists are well-advised to have the producer sign an agreement upfront that includes "work for hire" language that clarifies that the artist has hired the producer to perform a service and the artist will own the copyright in the masters that are produced.

Absent a written agreement that clarifies ownership, you're more likely to have a dispute based on the default provisions of the Copyright Act.

TIP: You should clarify ownership before you record whenever possible because work for hire status should be established upfront (i.e., before work begins). Otherwise, you may need additional paperwork to assign any copyright ownership in the masters that the producer could claim. Plus, if the track is successful, you can bet the producer will be less likely to agree to give up ownership claims after the work is complete, especially if it means the producer is entitled to less money or creative control.

—Amy E. Mitchell

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