This is an excerpt from Disc Makers’ new guide, Holiday Music – A Guide to Copyrights, Mechanical Licenses, and Christmas Songs.
Any time you reproduce and distribute a recording of a composition you did not write – and that is not in the public domain – you need a mechanical license. Mechanical licenses are issued by the owner or controller of the composition, typically publishers, acting on behalf of songwriters or composers. Basically, this is a royalty payment to the songwriter (or more correctly, the copyright owner) for allowing you the use of the composition.
Why is licensing necessary?
Just like you need a license to drive a car, fly an airplane, or sell real estate – it’s the law! Copyright Law requires artists and labels to obtain a mechanical license before distributing a recording containing any song/composition they didn’t write.
What’s a mechanical license?
A mechanical license is a broad term that refers to the reproduction – for distribution or sale – of a musical composition in the form of a sound recording. Any time you reproduce and distribute a recording of a composition you do not control – including through physical and digital means – you need a mechanical license. Mechanical licenses are issued by the owner or controller of the composition in question. Typically, these are publishers acting on behalf of songwriters or composers. Some agencies represent many US publishers for mechanical licensing, although there are US publishers who are not represented by agencies and must be licensed directly.
How does this work for physical CDs?
For each physical CD manufactured that includes the cover song material, the royalties owed correspond to the statutory rate of 9.1¢ per pressing per song. For instance, if you were to manufacture 1,000 CDs of an album containing two cover songs, the royalties owed would be $182 (1,000 CDs x 2 songs x 9.1¢ per song).
How does this work for digital?
The same statutory rate that applies to physical CDs also applies to digital downloads (also known as DPDs). For digital downloads, the royalties are calculated on the actual amount of downloads. For instance, if your album included 2 cover songs and was downloaded 500 times, the royalties owed would be $91 (500 album downloads x 2 songs x 9.1¢ per song). Additionally, if your cover songs are available as singles, the same rate applies to all downloaded single tracks of the song.
What does public domain mean?
The public domain generally includes works that are ineligible for copyright protection or whose copyrights have expired. Songs or musical works first published in 1922 or earlier are in the public domain in the U.S.
Any time you reproduce and distribute a recording of a composition you did not write – and that is not in the public domain – you need a mechanical license. Our newest guide includes information about how to easily obtain the necessary licenses, a list of holiday songs that are in the public domain, and an in-depth FAQ about licenses and royalties. Now’s the time to get your holiday music into production!