Thursday, March 1, 2012

Who is the 'Author' of Band's CD?

Dear Rich: I have a question about the sound recording copyright. My band recorded a CD. I own the master. Who should be listed under author? Do I include cover tunes since it’s the sound recording, not the words and music being registered? Just so you're clear (and we think you are), your sound recording copyright won't protect the songwriting; it will only protect the particular series of sounds that are “fixed” or embodied in the recording. You should read Circular 56 if you have any doubts about what the copyright protects.
Who is the author of a sound recording? The author of the sound recording is the person(s) who  performed, produced and fixed (or recorded) those musical sounds. Typically that would be the musicians, the engineer and the producer. If you paid all these people to contribute their efforts as works made for hire, then you could be listed as "author" on the application. If not, you would (1) list the authors, and (2) have them all assign their rights to sound recording copyright to you, and (3) list yourself as "copyright claimant." Having the written assignments is a requirement of copyright law but in reality, many copyright claimants for sound recordings don't actually have all of these assignments. Their approach is that such documentation is only needed if someone challenges their rights, which is usually unlikely.
Should we include cover tunes? You should include all of the songs on the albums in your sound recording application. That's because the copyright only protects the versions you've recorded, not the underlying songs. That's different than if you've sampled someone's recording and included it. In that case, you need authorization to use the sound recording. We've written about that before.
P.S. All this talk about masters and new recordings has got the Dear Rich Staff excited about their own soon-to-drop new sound recording copyright, a clip of which is included above.