Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – application tips for musical works

A copyright claim in music or lyrics may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in the same manner as other works of the performing arts. When submitting an online application, the applicant should select “Work of the Performing Arts” as the Type of Work.

The applicant should give the title of the work being registered. When registering a musical work with the online application, the applicant should follow these guidelines:

  • Registering a single song contained on an album: Give the individual song title as the “Title of work being registered” and give the album title as the “Title of larger work.”
  • Registering an entire album: Give the album title as the “Title of work being registered” and enter each song title separately as a “Contents title” if the claimant is the author of or owns all rights in each of the songs.
  • Registering the music contained in a motion picture: Give the song title(s) as the “Title(s) of work being registered” and give the motion picture title as the “Title of larger work.”

The applicant must give the year of completion date for the work submitted. If the applicant intends to register a derivative work, the applicant must give the year that the derivative version was completed (not the year the original work was completed).

The applicant should clearly and accurately describe the authorship that each author contributed and should only refer to the material submitted in the deposit copy(ies). When  completing an online application, the applicant may use one or more of the following terms:

  • Music
  • Lyrics
  • Text
  • Musical Arrangement

Other acceptable terms may be provided in the Author Created/Other field, such as “melody” (for a single line) or “song” (for lyrics and music).

When completing the Author Created field or the Nature of Authorship space, the applicant should avoid ambiguous or unclear terms, such as referring to the physical object in which the musical work has been fixed (e.g., CD, mp3, tape, etc.).

If the work being registered is a derivative work or a compilation of preexisting works, the use of the underlying works must be lawful and the preexisting material must be identified and excluded from the claim.

In all cases, the applicant should provide a brief description of the new material that is being submitted for registration and the applicant should use an acceptable term to describe the author’s contributions to that material (e.g., music, lyrics, musical arrangement).

When describing new material that the author added to a derivative work or compilation, the applicant should avoid using ambiguous or unclear terms, such as providing the name of a musical instrument or referring to the physical object in which the work has been fixed.

As a general rule (draft), the U.S. Copyright Office will accept statements that identify the material excluded from the claim and the new material included in the claim, unless they are contradicted by information provided elsewhere in the registration materials or unless the terms used to describe the authorship are otherwise unclear.

To register a musical work with the U.S. Copyright Office, the applicant should deposit a copy or phonorecord of the work that is sufficient to identify the applicant’s claim to copyright in the music and/or lyrics and to allow the Office to examine the work for copyrightable authorship.