When is a mechanical royalty due?

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Question:

My husband's band is recording a CD of cover tunes. We know we have to list all of the writers and owners of the songs, but where do we go or whom do we register with before the release of the CD? Do we have to pay royalties to anyone?

Answer:

Musicians, like other human beings, appreciate being given credit where credit is due. But even more important than the nicety of listing the names of the musicmakers is the legal requirement of paying them for the right to copy their work.

To record a song for release to the public, a performer must obtain permission from the music publisher of the song and pay a fee, called a mechanical royalty. A mechanical royalty must be paid when songs are reproduced, for example on cassettes, compact discs, and records.

There are two ways to get permission and pay the mechanical royalty:

  • A compulsory license may be used and the preset statutory mechanical royalty rate paid directly to the music publisher -- the easiest, least stressful method.
  • Permission and mechanical royalty may be negotiated directly with the music publisher or the Harry Fox Agency (www.harryfox.com).

Under the compulsory license procedures, you need not ask the music publisher's permission to make the recording or negotiate a license fee. Instead, you merely inform the publisher of the recording and pay a license fee set by law.

You can get helpful information about the procedure by downloading Circular 50, Copyright Registration for Musical Compositions, from the U.S. Copyright Office website at www.copyright.gov/circs.

When using the compulsory license procedure, the music publisher must be paid a mechanical royalty rate set by the government -- sometimes known as the statutory rate. This rate increases every few years. For information on the current mechanical rate, review the copyright office website or call the U.S. Copyright Office Licensing Division at 202-707-8150.

You can locate songowners at www.bmi.com or www.ascap.com.

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