Do you write and record music? If so, you should know the
difference between the rights you have in the music itself and the
rights you may have in the sound recording of your music.
The copyright protection provided by the U.S. Congress protects
both underlying music compositions and sound recordings of the
music. These are defined under the copyright laws as separate
and distinct rights, and you must be able to distinguish the
difference between the two, because the owner of one may not
necessarily be the same owner of the other.
Music compositions are protected by the federal copyright laws
upon proper registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you are
a writer or author of music, you can register the music by
completing the PA (“Performing Arts”) Form, which can
be obtained from the U.S. Copyright Office. The form then must be
filed with the Library of Congress, Register of Copyrights. You
must submit either the written music or sound recording of it with
If you also record your own music, such as on cassette or
compact disc, you can protect the recording itself by filing an SR
(“Sound Recording”) Form with the Library of
Congress. This protects you from unauthorized duplication of
the sound recording by others. An SR Form can be used to
register both the sound recording and underlying composition at
once, provided that you are both the author of the underlying music
and the owner of the sound recording itself.
How can different people possess the rights to these two
different copyrights? You may own the rights to the
underlying compositions, but other people are permitted to record
your music (which is permitted provided that they have obtained the
proper permission from you). Accordingly, you may not
necessarily own the sound recording of your song that is recorded
by someone else.
What if you have different recordings of the same song? Perhaps
there are different “takes” of the song in the
recording studio, as well as a number of live performances.
Although the copyright to the underlying song itself (the
composition) remains the same, each recorded performance creates a
separate and distinct right to that particular sound
So generally, you need to register the music composition only
once, but if you want to protect the various recordings of the same
music composition, you will need to register each sound recording
in order to provide the proper protection of each recording.