Q: Can I Copyright an Entire Album At Once?
A: Yes—if certain criteria are met.
To understand the criteria involved in copyrighting a whole album in one submission, let’s briefly go over the information required on a copyright registration application, and how the registration process works.
With any copyright registration, the following information about your submission must be provided:
- Title: The name of the entire submission, under which the entire registration will be found in the Copyright Office’s database.
- Year of Completion: Just as it sounds, you’ll list the year the entire submission was completed. (Regardless of how many songs you’re copyrighting at once, you may list only ONE year here. More on this conundrum later.)
- Individual Contents Title (optional): If your submission is an album, the submission title will typically be the name of the album; the individual contents titles could then be the individual track names of the songs on that album.
- Author(s): You’ll list each author (defined here as anyone who contributed to the finished product), along with the aspect of authorship that person is responsible for. Possible aspects of authorship might include lyrics, music, performance, production, and so on.
- Owner(s): When listing copyright owners, keep in mind that any author is able to be an owner simply by being an author; however, not all authors have to be an owner. For instance, if the individual members of your band are listed as authors, along with the person who produced the album, the producer does not have to have an ownership claim in the copyright, if this was your agreement—you could simply list you band members. Additionally, if you would like an owner to be listed who is not also an author—perhaps your band is an LLC and you’d like to list the members as authors, but the LLC as the owner—you can certainly do so, but you would need to have a written agreement to that effect. (This agreement does not have to be submitted to the Copyright Office—that’s between you and your band—but it does need to be mentioned.)
Now, about that aforementioned conundrum. What if the information is the same for most of the material, but not all? Unfortunately, that’s going to throw a wrench into your plans to save money on application fees by copyrighting an album all at once. Let’s look at a few examples below.
It’s one thing to tell you “All of your information has to be the same.” It’s another to apply that to real situations. Here are a few common examples of situations where you’d need to break down your album into separate registrations:
Example 1: You wrote, performed, and produced an entire 12-track album yourself—except for track 8, which is a cover. This causes a problem with the Authorship, Ownership, and Publication sections. (Remember, you’ll also need to ask permission to record that cover.)
Example 2: Your band is 100% responsible for your material, and you’ve all contributed equally to the lyrics, music, production…everything. Your album hasn’t been released yet, but you put a few tracks from the album on your Facebook page so fans can hear what you’ve been up to. Since “publication” means that you’ve made material available to the public, the publication date on those few tracks will be the date you put the tracks on Facebook—the rest of the album is unpublished. This will cause a problem with the Publication section of your registration.
Example 3: You’re a singer/songwriter, and you’ve been writing music for a few years now. None of your material has been published. However, to submit everything at once, you’ll need to indicate the year of completion. If you want some of your songs to be listed as completed in 2009, some in 2010, and so on, you’ll have a discrepancy in the Year of Publication field.
The Bottom Line
As the previous examples should be making clear, there’s one basic question you need to ask yourself about every singe piece of information provided in your copyright registration (with the only exception of the Individual Contents): “Is this statement true for the entire registration?”If your answer is a simple “yes,” you should be good to go with your copyright registration.
On the other hand, if you find yourself trying to limit your answer with something like “yes, except for this one thing…”, you aren’t going to be able to submit everything at once. (I know. Bummer.) Here’s how to deal:
- Isolate the problem. That pesky co-written track? Those couple of songs you put on Facebook last year? Go through your album humming “One of these things is not like the other / One of these things just doesn’t belong” to yourself until you find the issue.
- Remove it. No, you don’t have to take it off of your album—but you can’t include it in this registration.
- Start a new registration. Submit your entire registration, minus that one pesky track (or two, or three) that doesn’t fit. Then, start a new registration for that outlier. You’ll have to pay a second registration fee, but isn’t it more important to do something correctly?
Yes, it seems silly that you can’t just list an author for one track and still copyright the album in one go—but now that you understand how the registration process works, you should be able to understand why this is the case.
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