Information on Copyright Laws for Vocalist Music Demos

by Holly Cameron
Recording a vocal demo involves complex copyright issues.

Recording a vocal demo involves complex copyright issues.

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Copyright laws relating to vocalist music demos can be complex and the precise rules depend on individual circumstances. A vocalist music demo often contains more than one copyright: the first copyright comprises the original music and the second relates to the sound recording. In addition, if the vocalist is not singing an original song, he may have to apply for permission from the owner of the song’s copyright before he sends out the demo.

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Copyright for Musical Works

The composer of any musical work owns the copyright as soon as he fixes it in a tangible means of expression, such as by recording the music or writing it down. If a vocalist creates an original song for his demo, he may register that song with the U.S. Copyright Office to create a permanent record of his work. Although the law does not require registration, it provides protection against infringement and gives the composer the right to defend his copyright in court.

Copyright for Sound Recordings

The Copyright Act defines a sound recording as a work that results from the fixation a series of musical, spoken or other sounds. This includes not only the vocalist’s performance, but also additional factors such as backing music or instrumental sounds. The creator of an original sound recording, therefore, owns the copyright for each demo that he makes.


You can either submit separate registrations for your musical work and the sound recording, or apply for both on the same form. You should also include a copy of the work. You may submit the application either via the U.S. Copyright Office’s online system or by mail. Alternatively, you can use the services of an online document preparation site like LegalZoom. The U.S. Copyright Office will keep a copy of the demo as a public record.

Type of File

You can register a sound recording with the U.S. Copyright Office in any tangible form such as CDs, cassettes or vinyl discs. Alternatively, you can upload an electronic version of the demo. The U.S. Copyright Office has published a list of acceptable file types for musical works that include Windows Media Audio, Real Audio and Windows Wave Sound Files.

Singing a Non-Original Song

If you want to sing a song composed by another person on your demo, you should seek permission before sending out your demo to avoid potential court action. You can search the copyright status of a song through the U.S. Copyright Office. You can request permission by contacting the copyright holder or going through a music-licensing agency. Alternatively, you may choose a song within the public domain. A musical work retains copyright from the date it is created until 70 years after the composer’s death; after this time, it is said to be within the public domain. You may, therefore, record a song within the public domain without fear of contravening copyright. The Public Domain Information Project has a list of songs in the public domain.