Learn the benefits of registration, the risks of failing to register, and if you should register the copyrights of your songs and masters or sound recordings with the U.S. Copyright Office.
November 1, 2019
Creators and owners or of copyrights in music can register their ownership of their copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office.
If you're a songwriter, you can register your ownership of your songs or compositions. If you're a music publisher, self-published songwriter, or small or independent music publishing company, you can register the songs you own or control the rights to as a publisher. If you're a music or recording artist, record producer, or another owner of masters like a small of indie record label, you can register your ownership of sound recordings.
Are there benefits to registration of copyrights of songs or music and lyrics and masters or sound recordings with the U.S. Copyright Office?
While registration is not required for the creation of a copyright and the protections and rights that copyright law provides to copyright owners, there are two primary benefits of registering your copyrights for your music compositions, songs, and masters or sound recordings. The first benefit is that successful registration of your copyright gives you the ability to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement against any alleged infringing parties in the event of any infringement of your copyright. The second benefit of successful registration of your copyright ownership of music or sound recordings creates a legal presumption that you're the true owner and your registration is valid.
Registration of your songs or masters with the U.S. Copyright Office allows you to sue for copyright infringement
Under the law, if someone uses your songs or masters without your permission or a license, they are liable to you for copyright infringement. Copyright infringement would include anytime your song is shared, sold, copied, distributed, publicly performed, broadcast, or otherwise used or made available by or to others without a proper license being issued. The license must be issued either by the copyright owner of the song or master, or an agent of the copyright owner like a performing rights organization like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC for example. The more successful your song or music is, unfortunately the reality is it is more likely it is that someone will at some point infringe your copyright.
Once infringement of your copyright has occurred, there are legal remedies that you can pursue to recover money from the infringer and prevent them from continuing to engage in copyright infringement of your songs or masters. The first step is to send a cease and desist letter or notice to the infringer, and prior to filing a lawsuit, attempting to reach a settlement agreement with the infringer to recover your money damages. Unfortunately, in order for these first steps or attempts to be effective, the actual threat and ability to pursue a possible lawsuit for copyright infringement is helpful and often necessary.
Can you sue for copyright infringement without properly registering your copyrights for your songs or masters with the U.S. Copyright Office?
The law requires that in order to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement of your songs or music recordings, you must first successfully properly register your copyrights in those songs or masters. This means the copyrights of your songs or master recordings must actually be properly registered with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to filing suit, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that simply filing the required registration application or waiting on an in progress registration is not adequate to file a copyright infringement lawsuit.
It takes an average of anywhere from three to seven months to successfully obtain a certificate of registration from the U.S. Copyright Office. In addition, if you notify the infringer of your intent to pursue an infringement lawsuit prior to registering your copyrights, you provide the infringer with the opportunity to attempt to register as the owner of your copyrights before you.
As you can see, the risks for failing to timely and properly register the copyrights for your songs or musical compositions and masters or sound recordings can be costly. As a result, timely and proper registration of your copyrights in songs or masters is important and the benefits outweigh the risks of not registering or failing to properly register.
Registration of your music or sound recording copyrights creates a presumption that you're the owner and the registration is valid
Another benefit to successful registration of your songs and master recordings with the U.S. Copyright Office, is the legal presumption that it creates. The law provides that a successful registration of a copyright in a musical composition or sound recording, creates a rebuttable legal presumption that the party who is listed on the registration certificate as the owner or claimant of the copyright is the true owner and that the registration is valid.
This is what's called "prima facie" evidence and shifts the burden to the other party in the litigation to prove that the copyright's ownership and registration validity is inaccurate. While it doesn't prevent an infringer from attempting or presenting evidence to dispute the legal presumption, it can save time, effort, and of course money in copyright infringement litigation involving songs or musical recordings. As you can imagine, this is another benefit of timely proper registration of copyrights of your songs or masters.
So, should you register your copyrights in your songs or masters?
Now that you know the benefits of registering your songs or masters with the U.S. Copyright Office, and the risks you take in failing to timely or properly register, the answer to whether you should register your copyrights, is almost definitely, yes. Fortunately, the process of applying for registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is relatively inexpensive and simple to complete. A music, entertainment, or copyright attorney can also further advise you if registration is right for you and help you to register your songs, lyrics, or masters or music recordings with the U.S. Copyright Office.
If you want any additional information on entertainment, music, or copyright law and
copyright registration, including legal assistance or advice with obtaining successful copyright registration to protect your copyrights on your songs or masters, please contact us at The Fruitful Firm anytime.
Zach Scott Gainous is an entertainment, music, and copyright attorney in Nashville, and the founder and managing attorney of Nashville entertainment, music, and copyright law firm The Fruitful Firm. Zach regularly provides legal expertise, advice and representation to songwriters, record producers, music artists, music creators, small and independent music publishers and record labels, and more.
Disclaimer: This article or post is not and should not be considered or used as a substitute for legal advice or the hiring of an attorney. You should always carefully seek out legal advice and representation from a qualified attorney to assist you with your legal matters and issues.