Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – Identifying the author of musical work

The author of a musical work (including any lyrics) is the creator of the music (and/or lyrics), not the person who merely transcribes the work. Transcribing or fixing a musical work in and of itself does not constitute authorship. Creating a recording of a musical work is not a form of musical work authorship in and of itself, although it may be a form of sound recording authorship if it contains sufficient creativity to constitute a copyrightable sound recording.

If a musical work is a “joint work,” the applicant should name all the joint authors on the application. If there is a discrepancy between the individuals identified as authors on the application and the individuals identified as authors on the deposit copy(ies), the registration specialist will communicate with an applicant, unless this information is clarified elsewhere in the registration materials.

Historically, songs with different composers of music and lyrics have been registered as joint works. Where separate applications are received for the lyrics and the music of a song, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant to inquire whether the authors intended to merge their contributions into a unitary whole. If the work is a work of joint authorship rather than a derivative work, the applicant(s) should submit one application listing both authors.

Generally, the applicant should name the individual authors of a musical work, and should not name a performing group as an organizational author, unless the group is a legal entity that created the musical work as a work made for hire. Naming the individuals as the authors rather than the performing group creates a clearer public record, because membership in the performing group may change over time.

The applicant should provide the legal name(s) of all the individual(s) who created the musical work in the Author field or space (unless the work is pseudonymous, anonymous, or a work made for hire). However, the applicant should include only the names of the songwriters (i.e., the author(s) of the music and, if applicable, the lyrics).

The applicant should not list all of the names of the band members unless all of the members contributed to the authorship of the musical work. The band members’ contribution to the recorded performance (i.e., the sound recording) may well be a separate claim that includes different authors from the claim in the musical work. If the authors of the musical work are different from the authors of the sound recording, separate applications should be filed for each work.

For instance, if a band is comprised of Bingo, Mick, Paul, and Keith, but Keith wrote all the lyrics and Bingo wrote all the music, the authors for the musical work should be limited to Keith and Bingo. The applicant for the sound recording may list all of the performers who contributed to the sound recording as well as any producer who contributed copyrightable production.

If the musical work is pseudonymous (meaning that the individual who created the work is identified on the deposit under a fictitious name), the applicant may give the pseudonym instead of providing the author’s legal name and may indicate that the work is pseudonymous.

For registration (draft) purposes, the name of a performing group generally would not be considered a pseudonym, because pseudonyms apply only to individuals. If an applicant names a performing group as the author and indicates that the musical work is pseudonymous, the registration specialist generally will communicate with the applicant to request that the legal names of the individual authors who created the work be added to the application.

If the applicant names a performing group as the author and indicates that the work is a work made for hire, the specialist will communicate with the applicant unless it is clear that the performing group is a legal entity and that the work was created by the employees of that entity or was a specially commissioned work under the statutory definition of a work made for hire. If the performing group is a legal entity and that the musical work was created by the employees of that entity or was a specially commissioned work under the statutory definition of work made for hire, then the performing group should be named as the author and the work made for hire question should be answered “yes.”

A musical work may be considered a work made for hire if the musical work was (i) prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, or (ii) was specially ordered for a particular use with an express written agreement signed by both parties that the work is a work made for hire.