Copyright Protection for Sound Recordings

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Rights Do You Have in a Sound Recording?

The Copyright Act of 1976, 17 USCA § 114(b), has expressly outlined the rights that an individual has to a sound recording copyright. Sound recordings may include:

  • Music;
  • Audio effects; or
  • Verbal narrations.

There are three groups of parties interested in copyright of sound recordings include:

  • Composers;
  • Producers; and
  • Performers.

Each of these groups of individuals have a unique level of legal protection. Rights to copyrighted sound recordings include:

  • Duplication or reproduction of the sound recording in a form that either indirectly or directly recaptures the actual sounds of the original sound recording;
  • Creation of a derivative work where the original sound recording is altered, rearranged, or remixed;
  • Distribution of any copies of the original sound recording, derivatives, or duplicates in order to obtain a profit; and
  • Providing a public performance using digital audio transmissions in order to obtain a profit.

What Rights Do You Not Have in a Sound Recording?

The Copyright Act of 1976 also outlines the rights that an individual does not have regarding sound recordings. Activities that do not infringe on copyrighted sound recordings include:

  • Duplicating another sound recording that simulates or imitates the sound recording that is copyrighted;
  • Preparing a derivative work that simulates or imitates or simulates a sound recording that is copyrighted;
  • Distributing copies of an imitation or simulation of a sound recording that is copyrighted; and
  • The use of a copyrighted sound recording by educational television or radio programs.

What Are Copyrights in Music?

The author of a song may use a music copyright to prevent their creation from being produced, played, bought, sold, or given away without their permission. In order to obtain a copyright, the owner of a song has to register the music with the American Copyright Office.

Without a copyright, an individual’s song may be used without their consent.

What Legal Problems Arise With Music Copyright?

Copyrights are an integral topic in many different intellectual property disputes, including:

  • Record agreements: In accordance with certain record agreements, tracks that have copyright protection must only be used or sold by one record label;
  • Payment of royalties: Every time a copyrighted song is played, the record label and radio station is required to pay a nominal fee to the owner of the music. They are referred to as royalties. Before royalties may be collected, the song must be copyrighted;
  • Infringement: Unauthorized use of songs protected by copyright is known as infringement and may give rise to legal action as well as possible criminal charges; and
  • Public performances: A copyright will also specify who is and who is not allowed to perform the song for profit in public.

What Are the Owner’s Rights Regarding Copyright?

The owner of a copyright has the right to reproduce the work. This includes the right to manufacture copies of the work, for example, burning copyrighted audio recordings onto CDs.

The right to sell and share copies of a work is referred to as the right to distribute copies of the work. An owner of songwriting rights, but not of sound recording rights, may allow their compositions to be performed in public.

Songs are often performed where individuals can hear them, for example, on the radio, on television, in nightclubs, in live performance spaces, and in public spaces such as stores or elevators. Congress has also added a new right which allows a copyright owner to perform work through digital audio transmission.

A digital audio transmission may involve streaming songs online or using satellite radios, such as SiriusXM. None of these can be done without the consent or authority of the copyright owner, usually provided in a license.

Copyright protections for works that were released after January 1, 1978, last for the author’s life plus 70 years.

What Are the Two Types of Copyrights for Music?

There are two categories of copyrights for music, including recordings of sound and musical works. Sound recordings are pieces of art that are made out of recording sounds.

Sound recordings, for example, include the audio of songs that are included on compact CDs. The second category, music works, may also be referred to as songs or musical compositions.

Either or both of the lyrics and music of a song may be protected by a copyright.

What Distinguishes Copyrights for Musical Works from those for Sound Recordings?

One or more writers may own musical works and recordings that are independent copyrighted works. Sound recordings are recordings of the songs being performed.

Musical pieces, or songs, typically have a melody and lyrics, although this is not always the case. When songwriters write the music and lyrics for a song and an artist records that song and puts it on their new album, the songwriter is the owner of the copyright to the musical composition because they wrote the music and lyrics to the song.

Copyrights to a song’s sound recording that are included on the compact disc are still held by the artist or, more likely, the artist’s record label.

What Do You Have to Prove for Copyright Infringement of a Sound Recording?

Copyright infringement arises when a party encroaches on an individual’s rights as a holder of a copyright or an exclusive license to a right in a copyright. In order to successfully sue another party for copyright infringement against an individual’s copyright sound recording, they will be required to prove:

  • The individual is the owner of a valid copyright or exclusive license to a right in a copyright for a sound recording.
  • This may be achieved by using a certificate of registration;
    • If the individual is not the author of the sound recording, they may use a chain of title that shows how the individual acquired a copyright or exclusive license to a right in a copyright; and
  • Another party used the copyrighted sound recording without the owner’s authorization.

Can the Copyright be Applied to Every Component of the Sound Recording?

There are two components to sound recordings. The first is the foundational musical composition.

The second is the real sound recording. If the sound recording uses a composition, it may be possible that one or more authors contributed to it, making it a cooperative effort.

The creator of the tape would only be regarded as the producer if the recording included other non-musical noises, such as ocean waves or birds songs.

What Remedies Are Available?

If a party prevails in a lawsuit for the violation of a copyright for a sound recording, remedies may include:

  • An injunction: This is a court order stating the violator has to stop the offending activities;
  • An order of seizure: This means that a court will order any of the violator’s property that was involved in the infringement be taken away from them;
  • Monetary damages: This is money to compensate for economic losses;
  • Actual damages: These are usually associated with the cost of defending against the copyright infringement; or
  • Statutory damages: These damages typically range from $30,000 to $150,000.

Do I Need an Attorney to Protect My Copyright Interests in a Sound Recording?

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to your copyrighted sound recording or if your copyrighted sound recording has been used without your permission, it is important to consult with a copyright lawyer. It is also important to contact a lawyer if you are being sued for copyright infringement of a sound recording.

Your attorney can explain the issues involved with copyright interest in sound recordings as well as help defend your rights.


16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer