In discussing this matter with several musicians, I thought that an article on the subject was in order since there appear to be substantial misunderstanding regarding copyright and musical compositions and sound recordings. For copyright purposes, there is a difference between musical compositions (sometimes called the performing arts copyright) and sound recordings (often referred to as âthe masterâ).
A musical composition consists of music, including any accompanying words, and is normally registered as a work of the performing arts. The author of a musical composition is generally the composer, and the lyricist, if any. A musical composition may be in the form of a notated copy (for example, sheet music) or in the form of a phonorecord (for example, cassette tape, LP, or CD).
Sending a musical composition in the form of a phonorecord does not necessarily mean that there is a claim to copyright in the sound recording.
A sound recording results from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds. The author of a sound recording is the performer(s) whose performance is fixed, or the record producer who processes the sounds and fixes them in the final recording, or both.
A master sound recording copyright protects the original recording of a specific performance of a song by a certain group of musicians, as captured by a specific engineer. Ownership of the master is important because the owner of the master receives the profits from its sale or use. This includes record sales, digital downloads, and television and film licensing.
Copyright in a sound recording is not the same as, or a substitute for, copyright in the underlying musical composition.
The concept of a master copyright is different from the underlying copyright in the composition, which is owned by the songwriter(s). The composition copyright is owned by the author of the music and lyrics.
For example, Aretha Franklin, or more likely, her record label, owns the sound recording copyright to her 1969 version of a Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby, which was written by Paul McCartney. The Beatlesâ record label, based on their recording contract with the label, owns the sound recording copyright to the version that the Beatles recorded. Nevertheless, McCartney, as the songwriter, owns the copyright in the underlying song, no matter who records it.
Musical Composition and a Sound Recording copyrights may be filed with a single application.
Although they are separate works, a musical composition and a sound recording may be registered together on a single application if ownership of the copyrights in both is exactly the same. To register a single claim in both works, you must give information about the author(s) of both the musical composition and the sound recording.
An application for copyright registration contains three essential elements: a completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee, and a nonreturnable deposit, that is, a copy or copies of the work being registered and âdepositedâ with the Copyright Office.
A copyright registration is effective on the date the Copyright Office receives all required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration.