/ What is the Sound Recording Copyright?

What is the Sound Recording Copyright?

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Manish Jindal

December 5, 2023


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What is the Sound Recording Copyright?

Have you ever hummed along to a catchy tune on the radio or tapped your foot to the rhythm of a song in a movie?

Music is an integral part of our lives, and behind every song, there’s a complex web of rights and regulations.

This article provides you a useful insight on what is the sound recording copyright?

What is the Sound Recording Copyright?

A sound recording, commonly referred to as a “Master Recording,” captures the essence of an underlying musical composition.

According to Section 2 (XX) of the Indian Copyrights Act, a “sound recording” is defined as a capture of sounds that can be reproduced, irrespective of the medium used for recording or the method of sound production.

Unlike audiovisual works, a sound recording focuses solely on a sequence of sounds.

The copyright associated with sound recordings is more specific than other forms of copyright.

It grants the right to perform the work to the public, but this is limited to “using a digital sound recording.”

Playing a sound recording publicly in a non-digital format doesn’t infringe on its copyright.

It’s essential to note that when a sound recording is based on a musical work, many uses of that recording will inherently involve the musical composition.

In such cases, if one needs to use the recording, they must secure a license from the rights holder of the original musical work.

Understanding Copyright Symbols

The © symbol, which is a capital “C” enclosed in a circle, signifies the copyright held by the author of a song, its composition, and the lyrics.

This symbol is used for all creative works except sound recordings.

For instance:

© 2023 COPYRIGHT OWNER’S NAME. All Rights Reserved.

On the other hand, the ℗ symbol, a circled capital “P”, represents the copyright specifically for sound recordings.

The term “Phonogram” is a legal descriptor for a master music recording.

Works that contain sound recordings or collections of such recordings are uniquely marked with this symbol.


℗ 2023 COPYRIGHT OWNER’S NAME. All Rights Reserved.

Suggested Reading: How to display copyright symbol

Understanding the Layers of Copyright in Sound Recordings and Broadcasts

Sound recordings encompass a wide range of auditory content, from musical tracks to spoken words.

This category covers music tracks, spoken narratives, audio books, sound effects, recorded speeches, interviews, podcasts, and movie soundtracks, among others.

When sound recordings are aired on the radio, they fall under a distinct copyright category. To illustrate, if a song gets radio airplay, its protection as a sound recording remains intact.

However, the broadcast itself generates a new, separate copyright. Hence, a recorded radio program would be safeguarded under both sound recording and broadcast copyrights.

Furthermore, sound recordings and broadcasts can incorporate foundational literary, dramatic, or musical elements.

This might include scripts, written dialogues, books (like those converted into audiobooks), song lyrics, theatrical plays, or musical notations.

Written musical compositions, such as musical scores, have distinct copyright stipulations, which can be explored further under ‘musical works’.

Additionally, the written content of sound recordings, like lyrics or transcripts, falls under the ‘literary works’ copyright category.

Each foundational element within a sound recording retains its individual copyright and is protected independently.

Sound recordings receive protection irrespective of the medium they’re stored in, whether it’s digital formats like mp3 files, or physical formats such as CDs, audio cassettes, vinyl records, reel-to-reel tapes, or cartridges.

Understanding the Qualification of Copyright for Sound Recordings

To obtain a copyright for sound recordings and compositions, the work should be original and must be documented, whether in print, writing, or a graphical format.

For artists, this copyright signifies that the law recognises the unique blend of elements in their work, such as pitch, length, tone quality, and voice, which should be represented in a tangible medium.

A sound recording’s copyright is only valid if the work has been first released in India. For works that haven’t been published, the creator should be an Indian citizen when the work was produced.

Sound recording copyrights can encompass various components, including lyrics and melodies.

It’s possible for dual copyrights to exist within a single piece, allowing each copyright holder to have exclusive rights to their particular contribution.

Essential Aspects of Copyright for Sound Recordings

  • The musical piece or sound recording should possess a distinct “originality,” and the genuine work must be presented.
  • The copyright should grant full rights, including distribution, licensing, and preventing unauthorised use of the recording.
  • The creation should have a tangible form or representation.
  • When recordings are produced based on contractual agreements, such as commissioning a lyricist or singer, the individual or entity commissioning the work is typically recognised as the primary copyright holder.

Benefits of Securing Copyright for Sound Recordings

Securing a copyright for sound recordings serves as a formal recognition of the rights an owner holds over their creations.

By registering for this copyright, one affirms their claim over the work, emphasising the importance of safeguarding one’s creations.

Here are the key benefits of having a copyright:

  • It offers protection to various elements within a sound recording, including lyrics, musical compositions, and the master recording on tape.
  • The rights within a sound recording can be transferred, re-transferred, or licensed to others.
  • Copyright holders have the freedom to reproduce their work in any desired format.
  • They can publicly perform their work and even introduce specific alterations if needed.
  • In cases of copyright infringement, the owner has the legal right to take the violator to court.
  • Copyrighted work ensures the owner’s name is credited in all reproductions of the work.
  • It prevents unauthorised alterations and misrepresentations of the owner’s original creation.

Incidental Rights with Sound Recording Copyright

Sound recording rights are distinct from the rights associated with the content being recorded.

For instance, one might hold a copyright for a song’s lyrics and melody, while a separate copyright exists for its recorded version.

Indian legislation offers comprehensive copyright protection, which can be categorised into two main types: Economic Rights and Moral Rights.

As per section 14 of the Indian Copyrights Act, a copyright is essentially a collection of rights.

For sound recordings, these rights encompass:

  1. Reproduction Right: This grants the holder the ability to produce copies of the sound recording across various mediums, be it through digital downloads or physical phonorecords.
  2. Derivative Creation Right: This permits the creation of derivative works based on the copyrighted material, such as remixes or adaptations, and also allows licensing the work to third parties.
  3. Public Performance Right: This specifically refers to the right to play the recording publicly using Digital Audio Transmission.
  4. Distribution and Display Right: This grants the right to sell, distribute, or publicly showcase the recording.
  5. Protection Against Unauthorised Reproduction: Producers of sound recordings have the right to prevent unauthorised reproductions. Additionally, the right to public performance of a musical or dramatic piece is recognised as “neighbouring rights” under European Law.

In essence, these rights ensure that creators have full control over their sound recordings and can benefit from their creations both economically and morally.

Understanding Ownership in Sound Recording Copyrights

Copyright serves as a shield for creators, safeguarding their intellectual creations. In the realm of copyrights, the original creator or author is typically the primary rights holder.

The Indian Copyright Act, under Section 2(d), outlines the definition of an author.

For sound recordings, the copyright generally belongs to the individual or entity responsible for the recording, often the owner of the recording equipment.

This ownership grants them exclusive rights to share or perform the work publicly. Any other party would require a license, as stipulated by the Copyright Act.

Typically, the producer, record label, or recording studio is recognised as the holder of sound recording rights.

However, performing artists might also hold these rights, depending on the agreements made between involved parties.

It’s crucial to note that the owner of a sound recording copyright only possesses rights over the recording itself, not the underlying elements like lyrics, notes, or chords.

These rights remain with the creators of those components unless an alternate agreement exists.

In essence, a single song can encompass multiple rights, possibly held by different entities. For instance:

  • The lyricist holds the copyright for the song’s words, protected as a literary work.
  • The composer owns the rights for the song’s music, safeguarded as a musical creation.
  • When both lyrics and a piece of music are recorded together, the recording rights typically belong to the producer or record label.

The Supreme Court’s Take on Producers vs. Authors in Sound Recording Copyrights

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The rights of producers in sound recordings versus the rights of authors in the foundational works have been a topic of debate.

The Supreme Court addressed this in the case of IPRS Society V. EIMP Association, examining the rights of film producers in contrast to composers and lyricists.

Key takeaways from this case include:

  1. Initially, only the composer and lyricist have the right to record their song. Producers can record and share it publicly (e.g., via radio) only after obtaining a license from both the composer and lyricist. Once this is done, the producer holds exclusive rights to the recording, while the composer and lyricist retain their individual copyrights. This arrangement ensures a balanced approach.
  2. If a producer commissions a composer or lyricist to create a piece of music or lyrics specifically for a film or recording, and provides compensation for it, the producer becomes the primary copyright holder.

While the Supreme Court provided clarity on the ownership of foundational works in this case, discussions and legal debates on the topic persist.

Term of Protection for Sound Recording

India, being a signatory to the Berne Convention, follows its guidelines.

The convention sets a minimum duration of copyright protection as the life of the author plus 50 years.

However, in India, the copyright for sound recordings lasts for 60 years from the year following its publication.

Essential Documents for Sound Recording Copyright Registration in India

To secure a copyright for sound recording in India, one must provide the following essential documents:

  1. Statement of Particulars: This is necessary if the work seeking copyright isn’t original. Additionally, a Statement of Further Particulars may be required.
  2. No Objection Certificate (NOC): If someone other than the author is filing the copyright application, an NOC from the author is mandatory.
  3. Work Copy: A copy of the work is needed, whether it’s published or unpublished. Additionally, the year of publication details should be provided.
  4. Fee Payment Details: Proof of the payment made for the copyright application.
  5. Acknowledgment Slip: A copy of the acknowledgment received post-application submission.
  6. NOC from Legal Heirs: If the original creator has passed away, an NOC from the legal heirs or successors is required for the applicant.
  7. Power of Attorney: If an attorney is filing the application on behalf of the applicant, a power of attorney document is necessary.

Ensure you have all these documents in place to facilitate a smooth registration process.

Steps to Secure Copyright for Sound Recording in India

Securing a copyright in sound recording in India not only establishes the owner’s legal rights over their creation but also serves as a public record of such ownership.

This copyright allows the owner to take legal action against any unauthorised use of their work and claim damages for any losses incurred due to such infringements. 

The copyright grant from the Registrar of Copyrights provides prima facie evidence of copyright registration in any court. Additionally, please review the copyright sound recording form.

The Registrar of Copyrights in India is responsible for issuing copyrights. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to obtaining copyright:

  1. Application Submission: The applicant needs to fill out Form XIV, which includes both the Statement of Particulars and the Statement of Further Particulars.
  2. Individual Registrations: Each work requires its own separate application for registration.
  3. Cooling-off Period: Upon receiving the application, there’s a mandatory 30-day waiting period. This time allows for any objections or issues related to the copyright award to be raised.
  4. Addressing Objections: If any objections are presented during the cooling-off period, they are thoroughly examined. The applicant is then required to respond to these objections. After hearing both sides, the Registrar decides on the matter.
  5. Issuance of Certificate: If all goes well and no unresolved objections remain, the Registrar issues a certificate, officially granting the Copyright for Sound Recording.

It’s essential to follow this process meticulously to ensure your recording is adequately protected under Indian Copyright law.

Duration of Protection for Sound Recordings: A Global Perspective

India adheres to the Berne Convention, a significant legal term in the realm of international agreements, established back in 1886.

This convention delineates the fundamental protection standards that member countries, including India, must uphold for the protection of copyrights.

The convention suggests a duration of copyright that encompasses the author’s lifetime plus an additional 50 years.

However, the duration of copyright will vary from country to country.

For instance, many nations, including the US, have extended this period to the author’s life plus 70 years.

Specifically, in the US, the owner of copyright continues to enjoy protection for works registered and released before 1978 for a total of 95 years from their publication date.

For creations post-1978, the protection is based on the lifespan of the author for copyrights, plus an additional 70 years.

Such disparities in international copyright laws can lead to an original song or master recording of music being protected in one nation but not in another.

Zooming into India’s stance, Section 27 of the Copyright Act of 1957 clarifies the protection duration for sound recordings.

In India, the copyright for a sound recording of music persists for 60 years, starting from the beginning of the year following the recording’s first release. 


Sound recording copyright is a pivotal aspect of Intellectual Property, ensuring exclusive ownership to original producers of both musical and non-musical recordings.

This copyright is not just about protecting a single entity; it’s a bundle of rights that safeguard the interests of various stakeholders involved, from lyricists to composers and recording studios.

While the question of rights can sometimes lead to complexities, especially when multiple parties are involved, the essence remains the same: to protect the intellectual creativity and effort put into the creation.

As the landscape of music and sound evolves, it’s imperative to understand and respect these rights, ensuring that creators are duly recognised and rewarded for their contributions.


Give sound recording copyright examples.

If an artist records a unique rendition of a classic song, the copyright for that specific recording belongs to the artist, even if the song itself is in the public domain.

Can sound recording copyrights from India be protected internationally?

Absolutely! India is a proud member of the Berne Convention, an international treaty focused on the mutual recognition and protection of copyrights among its member nations.

This means that if a work is copyrighted in one member country, it automatically enjoys copyright protection in all other member countries.

With 177 countries being part of this convention, it’s highly likely that a master recording copyrighted in India will be safeguarded in many other nations around the world.

What types of copyrights emerge from sound recordings?

When it comes to master recordings, several distinct copyrights can arise:

Literary Work: This pertains to the written content within the sound recording, such as lyrics, scripts, or spoken narratives.

Musical Work: This refers to the musical composition itself, including the melody, harmony, and rhythm. It covers the musical notes and structure but not the actual recorded performance.

Sound Recordings: This is the actual recorded version of the music or spoken content. It protects the specific rendition or performance of the musical or literary work.

Each of these copyrights serves to protect different facets of a master recording, ensuring comprehensive protection for creators and artists.

What is the fair use doctrine?

The fair use doctrine allows some usage of protected works without the author’s authorisation, ensuring that public rights aren’t unduly restricted.

Are audiobooks protected under sound recording copyright?

Yes, audiobooks are a prime example of sound recording copyrights. While the text of the book has its own literary copyright, the recorded narration of the book is protected as a sound recording.

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