Do I Have to Re-Register a Musical Work to Show Changes in the Gender of Performer?

Full Question: As a songwriter, if I register a song with a gender specific title and lyrics, and the song is recorded by the opposite sex and changes the gender in the title and lyrics, do I have to re-register the song to show the changes? The music and the rest of the lyrics remain unchanged.

Answer: With respect to a song, there are two elements that may be registered: the musical work (music and lyrics) and the sound recording (recording of the particular performance of the musical work). In other words, the musical work and the sound recording(s) of that work constitute two separate works. The copyright in a musical work covers the music composition and any accompanying words of the song.

The Copyright Act defines a derivative work as “a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgement, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.” 17 U.S.C. ยค 101. To qualify as a derivative work, an author must add sufficient creativity to a preexisting work to create a new work of authorship.

A sound recording of a musical work generally constitutes a derivative work of the underlying musical composition. The new authorship added to the sound recording may include the performances by the musicians and/or vocalists and the production of the sound recording. Minor changes made in the creation of the sound recording would not affect the copyright in the musical composition. In the case of minor alterations, such as merely changing the gender in the title and lyrics, it is unlikely that such changes would constitute sufficient new authorship to constitute a derivative musical composition.

Answered by:

Rob Kasunic, Director of Registration Policy and Practices at the U.S. Copyright Office.