Monday, March 22

Copyright Your Music

Written By: Peter Cho

As an artist, have you ever felt that somebody was on the move to steal your work?

It is extremely important to register any title of work with the library of congress (U.S. copyright office). Works of authorship include: (1) Literary works, (2) musical works, (3) dramatic works, (4) pantomimes & choreographic works, (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works, (7) sound recordings, and (8) architectural works.

I will be talking about (1) Literary works, (2) Musical works, and (7) Sound recordings just because I am a producer & songwriter myself. A recording artist for an example that writes original lyrics to a hit song should immediately copyright the lyrics under literary works. “Literary works” can be expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or markings. A beat-maker should copyright the “Musical works” since he/she wrote the original compositions and original arrangements. Copyrights on musical works (musical compositions), protect both music and lyrics, and the copyright owner can control the rights to either one. So if the beat-maker also writes the lyrics to a whole song including production, he/she is the owner of the musical works. If the recording artist/performer is responsible for the lyrics they would register it under “Literary works”. The beat-maker (producer) would register his/her original composition and arrangement under “Musical works”. Make sure before the recording session is over that both the artist and producer leave with a split sheet with percentages of who makes what. If your song is making you money you will be glad as a producer or artist that you had agreements and split sheets filled out. Now lets get into “Sound recordings”.

According to the Copyright Act of 1976, a sound recording is a work that results “from the fixation of a series of musical, spoke, or other sounds.” Typically, record labels, performers, and producers seek copyrights to the sound recording. When a musical composition is recorded, one might wonder why it is possible to separately register both the underlying musical composition as well as the recording of it. Copyright registration for a musical work protects the composition itself; copyright registration on the sound recording protects the particular way in which the composition is performed and realized, typically through the efforts of the artist, engineer, and producer.

For example, in 1988, Bobby Brown, Teddy Riley, and Gene Griffin wrote the song, My Perogative. In 2004, Britney Spears covered (i.e. performed her own version or arrangement of) the tune on her Greatest hits album. As authors of the music, Brown, Riley, and Griffin could seek copyright registration for their musical composition. As a performer and interpreter of the work, Spears could seek a sound recording copyright for her performance of the work. (It should be noted that, traditionally, writers have generally assigned their copyrights to their publishers and recording artists to their record labels.) However, since Spears did not write the song, she could not claim a copyright on the actual music itself. In fact, for her to have made a legal sound recording of the song, she (or her record label) would have had to pay a licensing fee to the copyright holder(s) to do so.

If you are an unsigned artist, your best bet is to be the sole owner of the sound recording until you get signed to a label. This way no-body can claim credit for the long hours and passion that goes into your music.

For more information, visit the Library of Congress: (Copyright Office)

(Facts and examples from:)

“Music Copyright and Publishing” (2009) Kimberly L. Craft, J.D.

What's your take... leave your comments below.


  1. Please do an article on "split sheet", what they are and the importance of them. I did a write up of this for my blog.


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