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Copyrights in a Nutshell

Performing Rights | Mechanical Rights | Reciprocal Agreements
Copyrights & " Traditional Music "

A Canadian Perspective by Paul S. Cranford (1994) Updated 2008, with new calculations for current mechanical rates, new links , printable generic mechanical license PDF - etc.)

Original article created with help from Mark Altman (Morning Music) & Nancy Gyokeres (SOCAN). Reference: Musicians and the Law in Canada: Paul Sanderson, Carswell 1992.

Many times a year Cranford Publications receives correspondence regarding the whereabouts of various composers and copyright holders. Recently a record company phoned regarding contracts for mechanical royalties. Unknowingly they were looking for current addresses of two 18th-century Scottish composers, Niel Gow and William Marshall. The contemporary group who planned to record the tunes in question had listed proper composers but hadn't clarified that the tunes are in public domain, hence the confusion. If liner notes are clear, then these problems don't occur.

Note: (In Canada, 50 years after the composer's death, no permission or royalties are required. Public domain differs from 50-70 years depending on the country.)

"Music publishing" originally meant the printing and sale of sheet music. Today, the main task of most "music publishers" is the promotion of the use of their copyrights through two routes: performance rights and reproduction rights. There are many types of copyrights. Different organizations administer royalties due to copyright holders.

Performing Rights:

There are many performing rights organizations (PROs) around the world. SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) is the Canadian organization which takes care of royalties due to composers, songwriters ad music-publishers when their works are broadcast or performed in public. Concert halls, cinemas, arenas and clubs all pay licence fees to SOCAN which are distributed to composers and publishers. This doesn't cost the artist or composer anything but ensures that composers are compensated. Of course nothing can be paid if the performing artist, composer or promoter doesn't take the time to submit lists of the works performed at concerts to SOCAN. Similarly radio and television stations pay fees to SOCAN and submit logs of music played - these fees are also distributed back to the composers.

Just as performers must fill out work forms, composers must keep SOCAN informed of the titles of their compositions and arrangements in order to be compensated for any performance - concerts, radio, television or cinema. SOCAN can also supply to members rules that apply in claiming arrangements of traditional music. (SOCAN, 41 Valleybrook Drive, Don Mills, Ontario, M3B 2S6 phone 1 (416) 445-8700)

Mechanical Rights:

For each CD produced a pre-negotiated rate is paid to the copyright holder by the record company. Mechanical rights can be administered by the composer but are often taken care of by a publisher or agency. For very small runs, composers sometimes waive this royalty, nevertheless permission must be granted in writing before recording. Some agencies ask for complete payment in advance of the run (pay as you press) others ask for complete payment after a predetermined time (eg. 120 days after release) and still others agree to deferred payment based on sales.

It is the responsibility of the record company, (or musician if it's an independent release) to contact copyright holders and negotiate licences (ie: agree on rates & terms). To legally protect themselves, most CD manufacturers now demand to see the licences before starting reproduction.

The current US industry standard rate is 9.1 ¢ per track (up to 5 minutes + 1.75¢ per minute or partial minute over 5 minutes).To see how this works an On-line Royalty Calculator is posted on Harry Fox site.

Unfortunatley it's not always so simple. Recorded tracks of fiddle music generally contain many tunes in a medley, and although full rates are often paid, the copyright holder may permit the user to divide the rate by the number of tunes in the medley.

A 'reduced rate' isn't a given. Although it makes sense to divide a track rate by number of tunes in a medley, the rules were made up for other forms of music. Most agencies such as CMRRA demand the full track rate, per copyrighted tune (current Canadian rate is 8.5 ¢ per track... even if the 5 minute medley contains a mixtures of public domain & copyrighted tunes. Because of this, it is often advantageous (and fairer) for the artist/ label to negotiate with the composer directly rather than use an agency. Generic License (a printable PDF)

For example, using the North American industry standard, to calculate a reduced rate for one tune in a medley of three (any track-time less than 5 minutes), then the track rate is divided by three (9.1 ¢ / 3 tunes) = 3.33¢ per unit (i.e.: $33.33 per thousand) may be an acceptable mechanical rate to pay the copyright holder (publisher,composer or heir). This amount should be negotiated and a licence signed prior to recording. If the request is made after the recordings have been made, a publisher may demand higher rates and may even sue for copyright infringement.

Many artists- composers self produce their CDs. Obviously they want to see the system fair both ways. Although the 'agency standard' is to pay the complete track rate per tune, on a Cape Breton fiddle CD comprised of long medleys this could get very expensive. If negotiation for a 'reduced rate is necessary, an artist might suggest higher track rates than the 'industry standard' but still ask for a reduced rate.(Example 10¢ per track containing multiple tunes ... one tune in a medley of 4 tunes would be 2.5¢ = $25. per thousand produced )

Some composers and copyright holders do not like to be contacted directly, or dealing with the business side of music, and therefore let others take care of business for them. Similarly some artists and small labels don't want to dirty their hands in a negotiation process. Both licensing and collection can be dealt with by various organizations. In Canada, CMRRA (Canadian Mechanical Royalty Rights Association) grants mechanical licences for over 24,000 publishers. (56 Wellesley St. W., Suite 320, Toronto, Ont. M5S 2S3. Phone 1 (416) 926-1966). They get a small percentage for their services. CMRRA has a FREE searchable, on-line database of registered 'songs'. If you can't locate a copyright holder/ composer this is a good place to start your search. In the US The Harry Fox Agency does the same thing.

We have posted a generic printable mechanical license. All you need to do is print this PDF file from your browser, fill in the blanks and mail to the required composers or copyright holder.

MP3s and Online Streaming

'Industry standard rates' have not been set for MP3 downloads (temporary or permanent), subscription services or streaming (webcasts). For MP3 sales, online retailers must negotiate a rate with the copyright owners. A possible scenario:

Unlike the pay-as-you-press route for CD sales where paperwork is simplified by paying royalties before manufacturing, online sales are tracked as they happen (database integrated to check-out). This means the online retailer is in the best position to take care of redistribution of royalties. Unfortunately many ON-line services do not operate this way. Instead funds, including royalties, funnel back to the artist-label - meaning there is still more paperwork to be done and royalties to be paid.

This creates an opportunity for smaller businesses to specialize in MP3 sales - taking the burden of royalty tracking away from the artist/ small label.

A responsible online retailer might make an agreement to share net sales 50/50 with the label/artist. The online retailer would be responsible to redistribute funds to both the artist/label and to the composers.

Examples - MP3 Sales

1. $1.00 for a track - Medley of 3 tunes - all in copyright

  • 15% of the track's selling price to the composer(s)
  • 42.5% to the artist /label
  • 42.5% to the online retailer

2. $1.00 for a track - Medley of 3 tunes - all traditional

  • 50% to the artist /label
  • 50% to the online retailer

3. $1.00 for a track - Medley of 3 tunes - 1 tune in copyright, 2 traditional

  • 5% of the track's selling price to the composer(s)
  • 47.5% to the artist /label
  • 47.5 to the online retailer.

At the moment the most informative website I've found belongs to MCPS .

Go to: On-line Music Licensing

and MCPS-PRS Joint Online Licence

Summarizing the UK and Canadian positions -

  1. There is a temporary agreement between MCPS and PRS (the UK based organization that administers performing rights) so that the licencee pays once for both mechanicals and performance (downloads and streaming). The rate is 12% of the total revenue - reduced to 8% (likely because of administrative costs).
  2. CMRRA has asked for 15% of gross revenue with a 10 cent minimum. For tethered downloads and interactive streaming, both of which are subscription models, they filed the following:
    - For tethered downloads, 10% of the monthly subscription fee or a minimum of $1 per subscriber per month
    - For interactive streaming, 7.5% of the monthly subscription fee or a minimum of 75 cents per subscriber per month

Synchronization Rights:

For film, television or video. There is no standard royalty rate for the industry. Users must reach agreement with the copyright owner prior to production

Reciprocal Agreements:

In the US, performing rights are administered by both BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) & ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). In the UK & Ireland the comparable organization is called PRS (Performing Rights Society).

Similarly mechanicals are administered by HFA (The Harry Fox Agency) in the United States, MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) for the UK & IMRO for Ireland.

Print Rights: For books and sheet music.

When Cranford Publications puts a copyright symbol on the title page of a book this simply means that the book can't legally be copied. This copyright has nothing to do with performance or mechanical royalties. When we print a tune that is not in public domain we obtain permission from the copyright owner (composer or publisher) who may or may not charge us a fee. To avoid confusion, for music not in public domain, copyright notice should appear on the page with the tune credits.

Jerry Holland -Fiddlesticks | Copyrights in a Nutshell

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last update - 2/19/08