Copyright Registration, Notice and Enforcement for Sound Recordings
Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Sound Recording?

A sound recording is defined in copyright law as a work resulting from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but does not include the soundtrack of a movie or other audio/visual work. Examples include recordings of music, drama or lecture.

Why should I register my sound recording with the U.S. Copyright Office?

You must register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office before you can be legally permitted to bring a lawsuit to enforce your copyright.

Timely registration -- registration that takes place within 3 months of a work's publication date or before any copyright infringement actually begins, creates a legal presumption that your copyright is valid, and allows you to recover up to $150,000 (and maybe lawyer fees) without having to prove any actual monetary harm.

How do I register a copyright for my sound recording?

You can register your copyright by filing a simple form and depositing 1 or 2 copies of the recording with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration currently costs $45 per work. You may be able to save some money if you're registering several works that are part of a series (a "group registration"). Forms and instructions may be obtained from the U.S. Copyright Office by telephone, 202-707-9100, or online .

You do not have to pay someone a lot of money to register a copyright. You can easily do it yourself.

Note: A registration for a sound recording is not the same as, nor a substitute for, a registration for the musical, dramatic or literary work recorded. The underlying work can be registered in its own right, apart from any recording of the performance.

How does copyright notice work?

The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under United States law. Works first published after March 1, 1989 need not include a copyright notice to gain protection under the law.

Even though a copyright notice is not required, it's still important to include one. If a work contains a valid notice, an infringer cannot claim in court that he or she didn't know it was copyrighted. Also, a copyright notice may make it easier for a potential infringer to track down a copyright owner and legitimately obtain permission to use the work.

What is a valid copyright notice?

The notice for phonorecords embodying a sound recording should contain the following 3 elements:

  • The symbol (the letter P in a circle);
  • The year of first publication of the sound recording; and
  • The name of the owner of copyright in the sound recording.

The notice for "visually perceptible" copies should contain the following 3 elements:

  • The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr.";
  • The year of first publication of the work; and
  • The name of the owner of copyright in the work.


How are copyrights enforced?

If someone violates the rights of a copyright owner, the owner may file a lawsuit in federal court asking the court to:

  • Issue restraining orders and/or injunctions to prevent further violations;
  • Award money damages, if appropriate; and
  • Award attorney fees, if appropriate.

The success of a lawsuit will depend on whether the alleged infringer can raise one or more legal defenses to the charge.

What are legal defenses to a claim of copyright infringement?

Common legal defenses to copyright infringement include:

  • Statute of limitations. Too much time has passed between the infringing act and the lawsuit.
  • Fair use doctrine .
  • Innocent infringement. The infringer had no way of knowing the work was protected.
  • Independent creation. The work wasn't copied from the original.
  • The owner authorized the use in a license.

Is there an international copyright?

No, there is no such thing as an "international copyright" that will automatically protect an author's work throughout the entire world. However, many countries offer protection to foreign works under international copyright treaties and conventions.

Copyright protection rules are fairly similar worldwide, due to several international copyright treaties, the most important of which is the Berne Convention. Under this treaty, all member countries -- and there are more than 100, including virtually all industrialized nations -- must afford copyright protection to authors who are nationals of any member country. This protection must last for at least the life of the author plus 50 years, and must be automatic without the need for the author to take any legal steps to preserve the copyright.

In addition to the Berne Convention, the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) treaty contains a number of provisions that affect copyright protection in signatory countries. Together, the Berne Copyright Convention and the GATT treaty allow U.S. authors to enforce their copyrights in most industrialized nations, and allow the nationals of those nations to enforce their copyrights in the U.S.