Musical Compositions

United States Copyright Office

Circular 50

     Copyright Registration For Musical Compositions


The copyright law of the United States (title 17 of the United States Code) provides for copyright protection in “musical works, including any accompanying words,” which are fixed in some tangible medium of expression. Musical works include both original compositions and original arrangements or other new versions of earlier compositions to which new
copyrightable authorship has been added.

The owner of copyright in a work has the exclusive right to make copies, to prepare derivative works, to sell or distribute copies, and to perform the work publicly. Anyone else wishing to use the work in these ways must have the permission of the author or someone who has derived rights through the author.

NOTE: Copyright in a musical work includes the right to make and distribute the first sound recording. Although others are permitted to make subsequent sound recordings, they must compensate the copyright owner of the musical work under the compulsory licensing provision of the law (title 17, United States Code, Section 115). For more information, please request Circular 73, “Compulsory License for Making and Distributing Phonorecords.”

Copyright Protection Is Automatic

Under the present copyright law, which became effective Jan. 1, 1978, a work is automatically protected by copyright when it is created. A work is created when it is “fixed” in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. Neither registration in the Copyright Office nor publication is required for copyright protection under the present law.

Advantages to Copyright Registration

There are, however, certain advantages to registration, including the establishment of a public record of the copyright claim. Copyright registration must generally be made before an infringement suit may be brought. Timely registration may also provide a broader range of remedies in an infringement suit.


Publication, as defined by the Copyright Act, is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.

“To the public” generally means to persons under no explicit or implicit restrictions with respect to disclosure. The following acts do not constitute publication: performance of the work, preparation of copies or phonorecords, or sending the work to the Copyright Office.

The above definition of publication applies only to works governed by the copyright law that took effect Jan. 1, 1978. For information about works published prior to 1978, call the Copyright Office at (202) 707-3000. Recorded information is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Information specialists are on duty from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. The TTY number is (202) 707-6737.


If you choose to register a claim in your work, package together the following material in the same envelope:

1. A properly completed application form;
2. A nonreturnable deposit of the work to be registered; and
3. A nonrefundable filing fee of $20* in the form of a check or money order payable to Register of Copyrights with each application.

Send the items to:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
Register of Copyrights
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

*Filing fees are effective through December 31, 1998. After that date, please write the Copyright Office, check the Copyright Office Website at, or call (202) 707-3000 for the latest fee information.

Application Form

Form PA is the appropriate form for registration, whether it is accompanied by the deposit of a “copy” (lead sheet or sheet music) or a “phonorecord” (disk or tape). The form should be completed with black ink or type. Do not use pencil or send a carbon copy. All pertinent information should be supplied on the basic application form. A Continuation Sheet supplied by the Copyright Office should be used only when all necessary information cannot be recorded on the basic application form. No other attachments will be accepted.

Short Form PA may be used instead of Form PA in certain circumstances to register published and unpublished works of the performing arts, including dramas, music, and lyrics. Audiovisual works, including motion pictures, must be registered on the standard forms.

Who May Use the Short Forms

(1) Any living author who is the only author of his or her work. Groups of authors or business organizations must use the standard forms.

(2) An author who is the sole owner of the copyright in the work.

Other Requirements for Using the Short Forms

(1) The work must be completely new in the sense that it does not contain substantial material that has been previously published or registered or that is in the public domain.

(2) The work must not be a work made for hire. That is, the work must not be prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment or be a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work.

Short Form PA is not appropriate for an anonymous author who does not want to reveal his or her identity.

Form SR is for registration of “sound recordings,” which are works that result from the fixation of a series of sounds. The author of a sound recording is the performer, or the record producer, or both. Form SR may be used to register both a musical work and a sound recording fixed in a phonorecord, provided that the same person or organization owns the copyrights in both works. If both kinds of work are being registered, Space 2 of Form SR must clearly account for the authorship of both the musical composition (music or words and music) and the sound recording (performance, sound recording, or both). Request Circular 56, “Copyright Registration for Sound Recordings,” for detailed information about the registration of claims in sound recordings.

How to Complete Form PA

Instructions for completing each space of the application accompany the form. Nevertheless, registration is often delayed because of mistakes in filling out the form. The following points should be noted in particular:

Space 1: Title. Give the title of the work exactly as it appears on the copy or phonorecord.

* A group of unpublished works registered as a collection must be given a collection title. The individual titles may be given on a Continuation Sheet.

* For registration of an entire collection of published works, give the title of the collection.

* For registration of only some of the individual works in a published collection, give the titles of the individual works, followed by “Contained in (title of collection).”

See the section in this circular under “Collections of Music” (p. 5) for further information.

Space 2: Author. Answer carefully the question “Was this author’s contribution to the work a ‘work made for hire’?” Check “yes” only if that contribution was either (1) prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment or (2) specially ordered for a certain use, with an express written agreement signed by both parties that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. Such certain uses include contributions to a collective work, parts of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, or supplementary works such as new musical arrangements.

If the contribution was made for hire, give the name of the employer, not the person who actually did the writing, in the “Name of Author” box.

Complete the “Nature of Authorship” space to specify what the author created as written or recorded in the copy or phonorecord that companies the application. Examples are: “music,” “words,” “arrangement.” Do not include elements not present in that copy or phonorecord. Do not include elements that are not protected by copyright such as an idea, concept, name, or title.

Space 3: Year of Creation. The year of creation is the year in which the version of the work to be registered was first fixed in writing or recorded in any other tangible form. When a work is written or recorded over a period of time or constitutes a new version of an earlier work, give the completion date of the final work or new version. This year date must always
be given.

First Publication. If publication has not taken place, leave this part of Space 3 blank. If the version of the work being registered has been published, give the month, day, year, and nation where copies or phonorecords of this version were first published.

Space 4: Claimant(s). The name and address of the copyright claimant(s) must be given. The copyright claimant is either the author or a person or organization to whom the author has transferred all the rights in the United States copyright. When the claimant named is not the author, a brief
transfer statement is required at Space 4 to show how the claimant acquired the copyright. Examples of generally acceptable statements include: “by written agreement”; “assignment”; “written contract”; and “by will.” Do not attach copies of documents of copyright transfer to the application. For information on how to record transfers or other documents pertaining to a copyright, request Circular 12, “Recordation of Transfers and Other Documents.”

When the name of the claimant is not the name of the author given at Space 2 but the two names identify one person, the relationship between the names should be explained at Space 4. Examples are: “Doe Publishing Company, solely owned by John Doe” or “John Doe doing business as Doe Publishing Company.”

Space 5: Previous Registration. If this work was not previously registered, answer “no” to the first question and leave the rest of Space 5 blank. If the work or part of the work was previously registered and a certificate of registration was issued, answer “yes” to the first question and check the appropriate box to show why another registration is sought. Also, give the requested information about the previous registration.

Space 6: Derivative Work or Compilation. Complete this space only if the work being registered contains a substantial amount of material:

(1) that was previously published; or
(2) that was previously registered in the United States Copyright Office; or
(3) that is in the public domain; or
(4) that for any reason is not part of this claim.

Leave this space blank if the work does not contain a substantial amount of any of these four kinds of material.

Space 6a: Preexisting Material. Briefly describe the preexisting material that has been used.

Space 6b: Material Added to this Work. Complete this space by stating briefly but clearly all the added or revised copyrightable material that forms the basis of the present registration. Examples: “Arrangement for piano and orchestra” or “new lyric.”

Compilation of Musical Works

A “compilation” is a work formed by the collecting and assembling of preexisting materials that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship. When an author contributes a certain minimum amount of authorship in the selection and ordering of preexisting musical compositions, the author creates a copyrightable compilation. The copyright in the compilation of the musical compositions is separate and distinct from copyright (if any) in the musical compositions themselves. Protection in the compilation extends only to the selection and ordering of the musical compositions.

For compilations, give a brief, general statement describing both the material that has been compiled and the compilation itself. Example: “Compilation of selected 19th century military songs.”

In Space 2, use the same statement to describe the nature of the author’s contribution.

Space 8: Certification. The application must bear an original signature and be dated. Stamped signatures are not acceptable. For a published work, the application must be certified on or after the date of first publication. If the certification date is earlier than the date of publication given at Space 3, the application cannot be accepted.


The application must be accompanied by a deposit of the work to be registered. The deposit requirement varies according to the type of work for which registration is sought. Deposits cannot be returned.

Unpublished Works

Deposit one complete copy (lead sheet or sheet music) or phonorecord (disk or tape). “Complete” means that the deposit includes everything that is to be covered by the registration.Separate applications for several works may be accompanied by one phonorecord containing all the works. Registration generally covers only the material that is deposited for registration, even though the copyright law automatically gives copyright protection to all copyrightable authorship that is fixed in a copy or phonorecord.

Copies should be legible, and both words and music on a phonorecord should be clear and audible. All deposits should bear the title of the work.

Copies of a group of works registered as a collection should be assembled in orderly form and fastened together or placed in a folder. The title of a collection should appear on copies and phonorecords.

Published Works

For a musical work first published in the United States on or after Jan. 1, 1978, the deposit generally is two complete copies of the best edition.

Only one deposit is required for musical works that are:

* published only on phonorecords (tapes or disks), unless  the claim includes the sound recording, in which case, two phonorecords are required as the deposit;

* published by rental, lease, or lending (Where there is a score and individual parts, only the score is required.);

* published as a single contribution to a collective work, for example, a hymn from a hymnal.

If first published in the United States before Jan. 1, 1978, the deposit is two complete copies of the best edition of the work as first published.

If first published outside the United States before March 1, 1989, the deposit is one complete copy or phonorecord of the work as first published.

For a musical work first published outside the United States on or after March 1, 1989, the deposit is either one complete copy or phonorecord of the work as first published or the best edition of the work.

For separate registration of a musical composition published only in a motion picture soundtrack, the deposit is:

(1) One copy of the motion picture, or

(2) Identifying material consisting of

   * a reproduction of the musical work, and

   * a sheet of paper containing the title of the motion picture and any credits or copyright notice for the musical work, if any.

“Best Edition” Requirements

The copyright law (title 17, United States Code) requires that copies or phonorecords deposited in the Copyright Office be of the “best edition” of the work. The law states, “The ‘best edition’ of a work is the edition, published in the United States at any time before the date of deposit, that the Library of Congress determines to be most suitable for its purposes.”

When two or more editions of the same version of a work have been published, the one of the highest quality is generally considered to be the best edition. In judging quality, the Library of Congress will adhere to the criteria set forth below in all but exceptional circumstances.



I. Printed Copies (rather than phonorecords)

A. Fullness of Score
   1. Vocal music:
   a. With orchestral accompaniment—
   i. Full score and parts, if any, rather than conductor’s score and parts, if any.1 (1 In cases of compositions published only by rental, lease, or lending, this requirement is reduced to full score only.)
   ii. Conductor’s score and parts, if any, rather than condensed score and parts, if any.2 (2 In cases of compositions published only by rental, lease, or lending, this requirement is reduced to conductor’s score only.)
   b. Unaccompanied: Open score (each part on separate staff) rather than closed score (all parts condensed to two staffs).
2. Instrumental music:
   a. Full score and parts, if any, rather than conductor’s score and parts, if any.1 (1 In cases of compositions published only by rental, lease, or lending, this requirement is reduced to full score only.)
   b. Conductor’s score and parts, if any, rather than condensed score and parts, if any.2 (2 In cases of compositions published only by rental, lease, or lending, this requirement is reduced to conductor’s score only.)

B. Printing and Paper
   1. Archival quality rather than less permanent paper.

C. Binding and Packaging
   1. Special limited editions rather than trade editions.
   2. Bound rather than unbound.

3. If editions have different binding, apply the criteria in I.A.21.A.12, in Circular 7b, “‘Best Edition’ of Published Copyrighted Works for the Collections of the Library of Congress.”

4. With protective folders rather than without.

II. Phonorecords

   A. Compact digital disk rather than a vinyl disk.
   B. Vinyl disk rather than tape.
   C. With special enclosures rather than without.
   D. Open-reel rather than cartridge.
   E. Cartridge rather than cassette.
   F. Quadrophonic rather than stereophonic.
   G. True stereophonic rather than monoaural.
   H. Monoaural rather than electronically rechanneled stereo.


Unpublished Collections

Two or more unpublished songs, song lyrics, or other musical works may be registered with one application and fee, but only under certain conditions stated in the Copyright Office regulations. One of those conditions is that the copyright owner or owners must be the same for all the songs. Copyright belongs to the author and can be transferred only by
a written agreement or other legal means. If there has been no transfer and the songs are by different authors, this copyright ownership requirement has not been met. An additional requirement is that there must always be at least one author common to all the songs, even if there has been a transfer of ownership.

In the following examples, the musical works can be registered with one application:

(1) Al wrote the music and Sue wrote the lyrics to each of eight songs.

(2) Sue wrote the music and Al and Larry wrote the lyrics to each of four songs.

In the following examples, the musical works cannot be registered with one application:

(1) Al wrote the lyrics and music to three songs and co-wrote lyrics and music to four songs with Sue. (No transfer has taken place.)

(2) Sue wrote the music for six songs; Al wrote the lyrics to two of the songs, and Larry wrote the lyrics to four of the songs.

Space 1 of the application should give a collection title. You may also give the individual titles. The collection title should also appear on the deposit copy or phonorecord.

Space 2 of the application should name all the individuals who contributed authorship to the musical works in the collection.

If the authors are members of a performing group, you may state this after each name. Naming only a performing group as author does not clearly identify the authors.

When a group of unpublished works is registered as a collection, only the collection title will appear in the catalogs and indexes of the Copyright Office. Individual titles will appear in Copyright Office records only if each work is registered separately or if an application for supplementary registration is submitted to specify the individual titles in a collection. An
application for supplementary registration may not be submitted until a certificate of registration has been issued for the collection. For more information on supplementary registration, please request Circular 8, “Supplementary Copyright Registration,” and application Form CA.

Published Collections

A published collection of musical compositions may be registered with one application and fee if all the compositions are owned by the same copyright claimant. The entire collection may be registered under the collection title.


For works first published on and after March 1, 1989, use of the copyright notice is optional.

Notice was required under the 1976 Copyright Act. This requirement was eliminated when the United States adhered to the Berne Convention, effective March 1, 1989. Although works published without notice before that date could have entered the public domain in the United States, the Uruguay Round Agreements Act restores copyright in certain foreign works originally published without notice. For further information, request Circular 38b, “Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA).”

Use of the notice informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if the work carries a proper notice, the court will not allow a defendant to claim “innocent infringement”—that is, that he or she did not realize that the work is protected. A successful innocent infringement claim may result in a reduction in damages that the copyright owner would otherwise receive.

Form of Notice

A proper copyright notice for musical compositions consists of the following three elements:

(1) The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”;
(2) The year of first publication of the work; and
(3) The name of the copyright owner, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

Example: © 1998 Joan Jones


Although a copyright registration is not required, the Copyright Act establishes a mandatory deposit requirement for works published in the United States. In general, the owner of copyright or the owner of the exclusive right of publication in the work has a legal obligation to deposit in
the Copyright Office within 3 months of publication in the United States two complete copies of the best edition. It is the responsibility of the owner of copyright or the owner of the right of first publication in the work to fulfill this mandatory deposit requirement.

Certain categories of works are exempt entirely from the mandatory deposit requirements, and the obligation is reduced for certain other categories. For further information, request Circular 7d, “Mandatory Deposit of Copies or Phonorecords for the Library of Congress.”


A copyright registration is effective on the date the Copyright Office receives all the required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it then takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration. The time the Copyright Office requires to process an
application varies, depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving and the personnel available. It must also be kept in mind that it may take several days for mailed material to reach the Copyright Office and for the certificate of registration to reach the recipient.

If you apply for copyright registration, you will not receive an acknowledgment that your application has been received (the Office receives more than 600,000 applications annually), but you can expect:

* A letter or a telephone call from a Copyright Office staff member if further information is needed; or

* A certificate of registration indicating that the work has been registered, or if the application cannot be accepted, a letter explaining why it has been rejected.

You may not receive any communication from the Copyright Office until 120 days have passed.

If you want to know the date that the Copyright Office receives your material, send it by registered or certified mail and request a return receipt.


To request application forms, circulars, and other publications, write to:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
Publications Section, LM-455
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

To speak with an information specialist, call (202) 707-3000 or TTY: (202) 707-6737, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. You may also order circulars and application forms 24 hours a day from the Copyright Office Forms Hotline at (202) 707-9100.

Selected circulars and announcements are available via fax. Call (202) 707-2600 from any touchtone phone. Key in your fax number at the prompt and the document number of the item(s) you want to receive by fax. The item(s) will be transmitted to your fax machine. If you do not know the document number of the item(s) you want, you may request
that a menu be faxed to you. You may order up to three items at a time.

Frequently requested Copyright Office circulars, announcements, regulations, and all copyright application forms are available over the Internet at

Library of Congress * Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000


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