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Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – application tips for sound recording copyright registration

If the applicant intends to register (draft) a sound recording or a sound recording combined with the underlying musical work, dramatic work, or literary work embodied in that recording, the applicant must select “Sound Recording” when completing the online application or must use Form SR when completing a paper application.

The applicant should give the title of the work being registered. When registering the following types of sound recordings, the applicant should follow these guidelines:

  • Registering a single track contained on an album: When completing the online application, the applicant should give the individual track title as the “Title of work being registered” and give the album title as the “Title of larger work.” When completing a paper application, the applicant should state “Individual track title as contained in Album title” in space 1 of Form SR.
  • Registering an entire album: When completing the online application, the applicant should give the album title as the “Title of work being registered” and enter each track title separately as a “Contents title.” When completing a paper application, the applicant should state “album title containing individual track titles” in space 1 of Form SR.

In all cases, the applicant should clearly and accurately describe the contribution of each author and should only refer to the material that will be submitted in the deposit copy(ies).

When completing an online application, the applicant may use the term “sound recording” to describe the performance and/or production authorship that the author contributed to the work. If this term does not fully describe the authorship that the applicant intends to register, the applicant should provide a more specific description in the field marked Other.

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 performance contribution, the applicant should use clear terms, such as “performance” after the instrument name, such as “guitar performance.” 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 cello,” “bassoon melody,” or “sitar arrangement”). To refer to both the musical and performance contributions, the applicant should use both terms, such as “guitar music and performance.”

Similarly, the term “vocals” is ambiguous because it could refer to either lyrics, performance, or both. To refer to the vocal performance, the applicant should describe the author’s contribution as “vocal performance.” To refer to the lyrics, the applicant should describe the author’s contribution as “lyrics.” To refer to both lyrics and performance, the applicant should describe the author’s contribution as “lyrics and performance.”

Narration / spoken words are ambiguous terms because they could refer to authorship in the text, the performance, or both. To refer to the vocal performance, the applicant should describe the author’s contribution as “vocal performance.” To refer to the text, the applicant should describe the author’s contribution as “text.” To refer to both text and performance, the applicant should describe the author’s contribution as “text and performance.”

An authorship statement that describes the author’s contribution to a work as “rap music” is generally interpreted to mean that the author(s) contributed music and lyrics in a rap style. To refer to the performance, the applicant should state “performance” or “rap performance.”

A beat is an instrumental or drum track often created in a studio as a background for a recording. The term “beat” or “music track” may refer to the music, the sound recording, or both. To refer to the sound recording, the applicant should state “sound recording.” To refer to the music, the applicant should state “music.” To refer to both, the applicant should state “music and sound recording.”

The beat or “music track” may be preexisting in whole or in part, or it may be completely original. Where the beat is completely original, it may be described as a “sound recording.” Where a preexisting beat or music track has been used, the material generally should be excluded from the claim.

The term “executive producer” usually refers to a person involved in the financing or administration of a recording. A person or entity that contributes only these types of services does not contribute copyrightable sound recording authorship and should not be named as an author. If an executive producer contributed copyrightable sound recording authorship, the applicant should describe that author’s contribution using the term “sound recording,” rather than “executive producer.”

The term “sound effects” should not be used to describe the authorship in a sound recording, because this term is unclear. Hidden tracks are tracks that appear on a compact disc or LP that are not listed as a track on the album.

If the sound recording 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., sound recording, music, lyrics, remixing, additional sounds).

Where a sample has been used that is more than de minimis, the sampled music and/or the sampled sound recording should be identified in the Material Excluded field/space and the new material should be described in the New Material Included field/space. Any amount of preexisting material may be identified in the Material Excluded field for clarity.

The terms “equalization,” “remastering,” “reverberation,” “reprocessing,” and “re-engineering” may refer to contributions that are mechanical in nature or too minimal to be copyrightable, or in some cases may involve sufficient creative authorship. If the applicant uses one or more of these terms on the application as the sole basis for the claim, the registration specialist will request a more detailed explanation or clarification.

The following terms generally denote de minimis authorship and thus are not acceptable descriptions for a claim in new or derivative sound recording authorship:

  • Declicking
  • New format
  • Noise reduction
  • Reissue

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

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