Which copyright forms do I use? How many do I need to fill out?

April 26, 2011

Dear Music Lawyer,

My band is about to release a record of all original songs. We want to register the copyrights in our songs, but we're not sure which forms to fill out. Also, can we register all of our songs on one application?


Dear Bob,

First let me commend you on wanting to register your copyrights! This is something all artists should do. There are two main music copyrights that one can register, each with its own form. There's the Performing Arts copyright (using Form PA) for a song (i.e., words and melody), and there's also the Sound Recording copyright (Form SR) for a master recording embodying the recorded performance of a song. The Performing Arts copyright is held by the author(s) of the song. The Sound Recording copyright can be held either by the artist (typical for indie bands) or by the label (typical for signed bands).

Of course, no one wants to do more paperwork and pay more filing fees than they have to, but it is often the case that multiple PA forms are required, one for each unique set of authors. Because it is common for the recordings to be owned by the same set of authors (either the band or the label), generally only one SR form is needed.

Note: If you are using the electronic Copyright Office (eCO) rather than paper forms, then, under "Type of Work," you would select "Work of the Performing Arts" to register the songs or "Sound Recording" to register the master recordings of the songs.

Tip: Copyright registration fees are currently $35 per eCO application and $60 per paper application. Therefore, registering online using eCO will save you $25 per application!

Let's examine a few scenarios for a 10-song album from an indie band that owns its master recordings.

The simplest case is that you wrote all of the songs on the album yourself and own 100% of the recordings. This most frequently happens with singer-songwriters. In this case, you can fill out a single Form SR that will cover both the songs and the sound recordings.

If you are the sole writer for a band, but the band owns the recordings, then you could fill out a single Form PA for the songs and the band could fill out a single Form SR for the sound recordings.

A more common scenario is an album with mixed writer credits.

First, letís assume that you wrote 8 songs by yourself and 2 with your band mate Jake. You could register your 8 solo songs on the same PA application and the other 2 songs together on a separate PA application. The band could fill out a single Form SR for the sound recordings.

In the alternative, perhaps you wrote 7 songs by yourself, 2 with your band mate Jake, and another band mate, Sally, wrote 1 song by herself. In that case, you would need to fill out three applications to register the ten songs. That is, you would have Application #1 with 7 songs listing just you as the author; Application #2 with two songs listing you and Jake as co-authors; and Application #3 with one song listing Sally as the author. Again, the band could fill out a single Form SR for its sound recordings.

—Amy E. Mitchell

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