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Is Copyright Registration Required Before Licensing – Entertainment Law Asked & Answered




Does a song have to be registered with the copyright office before you can obtain a license to use it in your film or other project?

Hi, I'm entertainment lawyer Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I answer common entertainment law questions, so you can take your career to the next level.

Michael wrote:

With USCO processing time for e-filing generally up to 8 months (13 for paper!), and $800 for expedited processing, my question is: for purposes of clearing a piece of music (say for use in a TV show), would that specific piece have to have gone all the way through the Copyright Office and received a certificate of registration from the USCO?

A:   No.

You don't need to have a registration to own a copyright, or to do anything with the copyrighted work. Clearing a piece of music simply involves tracking down the rightful owner or owners and getting the required permission in the form of a license. Whether the work is registered is largely irrelevant.

Even if the music in question is NEVER registered with the copyright office, you can obtain a license… If you can find the owner… And that's one of the main reasons we have a registration system… So we can track down who owns a particular work.

With music, there are a few other ways… Start by searching the online catalogs of the Performing Rights Organizations ASCAP, BMI and SESAC… It's likely that the work is registered with one of them, and that catalog will tell who the songwriters, publishers and administrators of the song are.  Then, contact those folks with your license request, and you're good.

If you still can't find who owns the piece, you can try searching Google, YouTube, SoundCloud, and any other online resources, but the results aren't going to be quite as reliable. If you aren't certain you've nailed down the owners, I'd recommend using a different piece of music.

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