Copyright Registration Basics: Key Points (PA V SR)

Copyright. It’s a word tossed around in the music industry, but few know the importance or significance of a copyright. For any creative artist, a copyright is important because it provides certain legal status and protection with respect to a creative work. Copyright registration is something every artist who values his or her craft should be aware of and take advantage of. Although the copyright registration process may seem complex, it is actually fairly simple, if you know the right form(s) to use. This article will explain what a copyright is and break down the procedures and forms necessary to register your works with the US Copyright Office.

WHAT IS COPYRIGHT?

A copyright is a legal protection provided for in the U.S. Constitution that gives Authors (of music, books, plays, computer programs, etc.) the exclusive right to exploit their creative works for a limited time only. These exclusive rights include reproduction (copy), distribution, public display, public performance, remixing (derivative work), and digital audio performance.

WHAT DOES COPYRIGHT PROTECT?

Copyright protects creative works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Creative works are fixed when they are written down on paper, saved on a computer or pro-tool file, or recorded on a CD. Copyright protection is automatic—copyright law protects a creative work as soon as it is fixed in the tangible medium.

Protection is limited to creative works such as books, plays, music, poetry, movies, computer software, and architecture—it does NOT protect ideas! In other words, copyright law protects the song that you wrote down on a piece of paper about your girlfriend leaving you, but it does not protect your idea about a break-up song.

COPYRIGHT REGISTRATION

Most artists don’t understand the value in registering their works until it is too late, typically after someone else has infringed or used the work without the artist’s permission. Generally speaking, any person or entity that uses a creative work without the author’s permission is subject to copyright infringement. However, in order to sue someone for copyright infringement, you must first register your work with the US Copyright Office.

To register your work, you need to complete the designated copyright form, deposit a copy of the work intended to be registered with the Copyright Office, and pay the registration fee. There are two ways to go about this: register online or register using the paper form. If you decide to go the paper route, you first need to determine which form to use: the “PA” or the “SR.”

The PA form is used for Performing Arts. Works of the performing arts include musical works (instrumentals) and any accompanying words (lyrics). There are two PA forms: the Form PA and the short form.

The Form PA is longer and requires the applicant to provide specific information about the author(s), and the work to be registered. The short PA is used only if the following conditions are met: 1) The applicant is the only author and copyright owner of this work; 2) the applicant was not hired or paid by someone else to create the work (i.e., a “work-for-hire”); 3) the work is completely new and does not contain a substantial amount of material that has been previously published, registered, or is in the public domain); and 4) the work is not an audiovisual work.

The SR Form is used for Sound Recordings. That is, the original sound recording of the song, sometimes referred as the “master.” In this digital era, the “pro-tool” files or digital recording files are considered sound recordings. Form SR is used when the copyright claim is limited to the sound recording itself.

In short, use a PA form if you want to register the “underlying musical composition” i.e., the words or sheet music only. If you’re an artist who writes or composes music, or you’re a songwriter and/or producer, use the PA form to register your song. Use the SR form if you want to register the actual sound recording. If you’re an independent artist and plan to release your song or album, or you’re a production company or independent label and want to release a song or album of one of your artists, use the SR form to register the song and/or album.

In addition to the form, you will need to deposit a “copy” of the work with the Copyright Office, and pay the basic registration fee—$65 payable by check or money order for all paper applications. However, keep in mind that the average process time for paper forms is 6.5 months.

The Copyright Office suggests using its Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) to file your copyright registration because the filing fee is less expensive ($35 for a basic claim), the processing time is faster, and you can track the status of your registration online. The online system will pretty much walk you through the process. Similar to the paper forms, you must select the type of work that you want to register. For music, you will choose either: sound recording, work of performing arts (includes music, lyrics), or audiovisual work (music video)—once you select the type of work you cannot change this option, so if you select the wrong choice in error you’ll need to start a new online application. Once you’ve provided all the information about the creative work, you will be prompted to upload a copy to the eCO system. Again, once you submit your application you will not be able to edit it. The average process time for e-filing is 2.5 months.

Here’s a tip: If you’re recording an EP or Album, it will be expensive to individually register each song so consider registering your songs as a series or a “collective work.” Just remember to keep track of the songs and which collective work they’re a part of.

The Copyright Office also offers expedited copyright recordation services, which are available if you have a pending or prospective litigation (i.e. a copyright infringement claim), or other contractual matters. Expedited service is granted at the discretion of the Register of Copyrights. Through expedited service, a copyright registration can be filed in less than 2.5 months if not sooner. The fee for expedited service is $760 for special handling of each qualified applications for registration and $480 for special handling of documents for recordation.

If you have any questions about the copyright registration process, contact my office.

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