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Entertainment & Media Law

Guidance on Copyrights

In addition to passing formal regulations published in the C.F.R., the U.S. Copyright Office also publishes detailed guidance documents, available on its website, Lexis, and Westlaw:

Searching Copyrights

The U.S. Copyright Office provides free online searching of copyrights:

Registering and Transferring Copyrights

The U.S. Copyright Office provides information and forms for registering and transferring copyrights:

Printed Materials on Copyright Law

Music Royalties and Licenses

Musical works are subject to a complex set of licenses, including:

  • Public performance licenses for playing music in public forums such as on the radio, streaming on the web, and at restaurants, bars, and night clubs.  
  • Mechanical licenses for reproducing music in fixed forms such as CDs or online downloads.
  • Synchronization licenses for adding music to visual works, such as films and tv shows.

To simplify public performances and mechanical licensing, Congress has established so-called compulsory or statutory licenses. By statute, rights holders must grant these licenses for rates below or at the royalty rates established by the:

To ensure that they collect all of their royalties and to make it easier for others to license their work, most rights holders choose to register their work with one or more private organizations that specialize in managing licenses and collecting royalties.

Most musical works are registered with:

In addition, most musical works are registered with one or more performance rights organizations (PROs), which collect and distribute royalties for public performance licenses. The major U.S. PROs are:

When searching for works registered with PROs, keep in mind:

  • A songwriter may have registered their work under their stage name or their birth name.
  • A songwriter may transfer from one PRO to another. 
  • A work that is co-written by songwriters affiliated with different PROs may be cross-registered with more than one PRO.
  • Other countries have their own PROs.