How to Copyright a Sound Recording

How to Copyright a Sound Recording

by Jane Haskins, Esq., September 2015

A copyright in a sound recording protects recorded musical, spoken or other sounds. A sound recording copyright is separate from the copyright in the material that is recorded. Thus, you could have a copyright in a song and a separate copyright in a sound recording of that song. A sound recording copyright does not protect the sounds recorded in a motion picture or other audiovisual work. Those sounds are copyrightable as part of the motion picture or audiovisual work.

A sound recording is different than a CD, record or tape. CDs, records and tapes (known as “phonorecords” in copyright law) are not copyrightable because they are not works of authorship – they are simply the media on which a work is preserved. To be eligible for copyright protection, a sound recording must be an original work – it must have originated with the author and it must show some minimal amount of creativity.

When Does Copyright Protection Begin?

You have the copyright to your sound recording as soon as you have created it. You don’t need to register your sound recording with the U.S. Copyright Office to receive copyright protection.

Rights Included In a Copyright

A copyright is actually a group of rights. For sound recordings, those rights include: 

  • The right to make copies of the recording that directly or indirectly capture the actual sounds on the recording.
  • The right to sell or distribute copies or phonorecords of the recording.
  • The right to prepare derivative works in which the actual sounds on the recording are rearranged, remixed, or in some way altered in sequence or quality.
  • The right to perform the work publicly by digital audio transmission. 

Why Should You Register a Copyright?

Registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is optional, but has several important advantages:

  • Registration creates a record of your copyright ownership.
  • You must register your copyright before you can sue someone for copyright infringement.
  • If you register your copyright within three months of publication or before an infringement occurs, you can recover statutory damages and attorneys fees in a copyright infringement lawsuit. This allows you to recover money without having to meet the difficult burden of proving your monetary loss or the infringer’s profit.
  • If you register your copyright, you can also register with the U.S. Customs Service to receive protection against imports of infringing copies.

Registration Procedures and Deposit Requirements

To register a copyright, you must deposit three things with the U.S. Copyright Office:

  • A completed application form, which may be submitted on paper or electronically. If you own the copyright to a sound recording and the underlying work that is recorded, you can in some instances submit one application to copyright both works.
  • A filing fee of $35 for online applications and $65 for paper applications.
  • One or two copies of the sound recording. Unpublished sound recordings may be submitted digitally. For published sound recordings, you must submit copies of a CD, tape, or other phonorecord. The copyright office website has details about the number and type of copies you must submit for various sound recordings. 

When you're ready to register your copyright, LegalZoom will help you file the paperwork. Just get started by answering some questions about your creative work.