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Music Copyright Guide

by Casey Burgess

Sound Recordings

Sound recordings are treated similarly to other copyrighted works, though there are some interesting distinctions

  • Authorship
    • The author of a recording, and therefore who owns the copyright, is the performer whose performance is fixed to the recording. As of October 2018, with the adoption of the Music Modernization Act, the record producer who processes and fixes the sounds to the final product is considered an author and can receive royalties (or payments from licensing) for the use of the sound recording.
  • Publisher
    • SoundExchange is a website who controls licensing and distributing royalties for all U.S. sound recordings.
  • Duration of Copyright
    • The update to the Music Modernization Act also changed the way the term for copyright for sound recordings works. Previously, recordings made before 1972 were protected by state laws rather than by federal laws. This was confusing since every state had its own law. However, as of October 2018, sound recordings are now federally protected. Here are the new expiration dates for recordings made before 1972:
      • Recordings published before 1923 will go into the public domain December 31, 2021
      • Recordings published between 1923 and 1946 add 5 years to the general 95-year term
      • Recordings published between 1947 and 1956 add 15 years to the general 95-year term
      • All remaining copyrights for recordings created before February 15, 1972 will expire February 15, 2067
    • For recordings made after 1972, the rules stated in the Cornell Copyright Duration Guide remain the same