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Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – description of authorship in musical work

Giving an instrument name (e.g., guitar, trumpet, or keyboard) as a description of authorship is unclear, because the instrument could refer either to the music, the performance, or both. To refer to the musical contribution, the applicant should use clear terms, such as music, melody, or arrangement after the instrument named (e.g., “music for guitar,” “trumpet melody,” or “keyboard arrangement”).

Similarly, the term “vocals” is unclear, because it could refer to either lyrics or performance. To refer to the lyrics, the applicant should state “lyrics.” To refer to the melody to which the lyrics are sung, the applicant should state “melody.”

Using the term “production” to describe musical authorship is unclear, because it could refer either to the musical authorship, the sound recording authorship, or both. To refer to the musical work, the applicant should use the terms “music” and/or “musical arrangement.”

When an applicant describes the author’s contributions to a work as “rap,” that term generally is interpreted to mean that the author(s) contributed lyrics, unless information in the registration materials suggests that the applicant intended to register (draft) a claim in sound recording authorship. To clearly describe the musical authorship in a rap, the applicant should use terms such as “lyrics” and/or “music.”

A beat is an instrumental or drum track often created in a studio as a background for a song or rap. When this term is used it may be unclear whether the applicant is referring to the music or the sound recording, or both, or whether the beat is based in whole or in part on preexisting music, or is completely original. When the beat was created entirely by the author, the applicant should describe the authorship as “music” or “musical beat.” Where a preexisting beat is used, the applicant generally should exclude this material from the claim.

Some companies offer so-called “royalty-free” beats for download or purchase. Often, the beat is sold to a large number of people and there is no written agreement between the purchaser and the company offering the beats. Thus, even if the company states that the purchaser is the copyright owner of the beat, the purchaser may be merely a nonexclusive licensee of the work rather than an owner. As such, the applicants should exclude the beat from the claim.

A loop is a short musical section that is repeated continuously as a part of a song. The repeated musical section of a loop may be preexisting or original. By itself, a loop may not represent sufficient authorship to support a claim in music. If the loop is original and sufficiently creative, the applicant may describe this authorship as “music” or “musical loop.”

The term “transcription” is unclear, because it could refer to the act of notating or writing down music that someone else created. In this situation, the transcriber’s contribution is not registrable. Transcription may also refer to arranging a work for a different group of instruments. To describe this type of contribution, the applicant should use the terms “musical arrangement” or “orchestration.”

The term “sound effects” should not be used to describe the authorship in a musical work, because this term is unclear. Instead, the applicant should describe the authorship as “music.” If it appears that the applicant is asserting a claim in uncopyrightable material or unclaimable material, the registration specialist will communicate with the applicant.