First, understand that you already own the copyright to your album, because you created it. Official copyright registration isn’t a requirement.
However, because of the various benefits to registering a copyright, you’ve decided to go for it. But how? Do you need to register every song on your album individually—or can you submit an entire album’s worth of music in one fell swoop?
Let’s take a look at the copyright application itself to determine just what can be included in one registration.
The Copyright ApplicationTo officially register your copyright, you will work with the US Copyright Office (or a third-party service who, ultimately, will themselves work with the USCO). The Copyright Office filing process refers not to “songs” or “tracks,” but “submissions.” What, then, is an acceptable amount of material for one “submission”?
The answer: It depends.
What is clear is that one application is to be used for one submission; one set of information per submission, in other words.
The information required in any copyright application is as follows:
- The title of the work. This can be the album title, but it can just as easily be called “Sarah’s Music” or similar. (Optional “individual contents titles,” typically song titles, can also be provided.)
- The year the work was completed. This may or may not be the year of registration.
- Whether or not the work has been published. Published is defined as any method of distributing copies to the public in a way that you could not reasonably expect to collect all of the copies again. (Sharing a copy privately with a few musician friends is not considered publishing; posting a song on Facebook is.)
- The author’s name, address, and contribution. This might be one person; it might be a group of people. Whatever the case, list the information for everyone who contributed to the album.
- The owner’s name, address, and reason for ownership. It is typical for the author to own the material just by being the author (but this is not always the case).
Here’s the kicker:
The submission itself cannot be subdivided into different pieces. “Johnny wrote tracks 1-4, but Timmy wrote tracks 5-9,” for example, would not be accepted.
Only when an album consists of songs created by the same author(s), in the same year, with the same publication status, owned by the same party/parties, can the album be submitted for copyright registration in its entirety.
In the case mentioned above, for your band to register its copyrights to the entire album it has just recorded, if everything else about the material is the same—the same owners, the same year, etc.—they would need to break the submission up into two pieces: one collection of songs written by Johnny, and the other of songs written by Timmy.
[A noted exception to this requirement is exemplified by the famous Lennon/McCartney partnership, in which the partnership owned the copyrights to each song regardless of which partner wrote it. In this case, all things being equal, the songs are all legally considered written by the partnership, and they would have been able to register an entire album at once.]
What does this mean for you?
If all of the information is the same for all of the tracks—title, year, publication info, author/owner info; all of it—you can submit your entire album at once. If there are any cover songs, co-written songs, that have different circumstances, they cannot be included in this submission.