How to Give Credit to a Copyrighted Song

By Maya Austen ; Updated June 19, 2017
Woman listening to music on headphones

Music copyrights come in two forms: musical work copyrights and sound recording copyrights. Musical work copyrights are held by the person or group who owns the master recording of the song. Generally, the master recording belongs to the record label who employs the artists. Sound recording copyrights are held by whomever owns the composition of the song. Generally, the songwriter is the composition owner, unless the songwriter has contracted away his publishing rights. To give credit to a copyrighted song you must first establish the identities of the various copyright owners. Giving credit is then based on how you’re using the copyrighted song.

Go to the Public Catalog Web page on the Library of Congress website. Conduct a search for the copyrighted song. You can use the Library of Congress' online public catalog to determine the ownership of songs created after 1978.

Contact the copyright claimant for written permission to use the copyrighted song in the form of a license agreement. If you don’t have permission to use the song, even if you give the proper credit, you’re breaking U.S. copyright laws and can face legal consequences, such as monetary damages.

Insert the following into the song credits if you used a sample of a copyrighted song to create a new piece of work: Contains a sample of (Song Title) by (Performers) courtesy of (sound recording copyright claimant).

Place the following in the song credits if you rerecorded or performed a cover version, also known as a remake, of a copyrighted song: (Song Title); Written by (songwriters/composers); Published by (musical work copyright claimant).

Write the following in the song credits if you used the performance of the copyrighted song in a another piece of work, such as a film: (Song Title); Written by (songwriters/composers); Performed by (artist); Courtesy of (sound recording copyright claimant).

Tip

To determine the copyright ownership of a song that was created before 1978, you can visit the Copyright Public Records Reading Room at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Make a request of a staff member to look up the information by submitting a copyright “Search Request Form” with the applicable per hour search fee, or you can do the research yourself.

About the Author

Maya Austen began freelance writing in 2009. She has written for many online publications on a wide variety of topics ranging from physical fitness to amateur astronomy. She's also an author and e-book publisher. Austen has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the New England Institute of Art and currently lives in Boston, Mass.