Additional Resources

By: George Howard

Once a song has been commercially released, anyone can record it. You don't have to get permission to do so, and no one can stop you. However, there are things you do have to do. In order to understand how this works, you need to understand one of the fundamental music publishing concepts - compulsory licenses.

A compulsory license, as its name suggests, is a license that a songwriter - once certain conditions are met - must grant to anyone who wishes to use his song. You read that right - must grant. For instance, if you want to record a version of “Stairway to Heaven” on your own record, you don’t have to get anyone’s permission to do so. Because of the compulsory license law, you can record anyone’s song that has been commercially released and put it on your record, and the writer (or publisher) of that song must grant you the license to do so.

However, this compulsory license law also establishes certain guidelines to ensure that songwriters are compensated in a fair and timely manner when their songs are used on other performers’ recordings.

Rules of Compulsory Licenses

Here’s how it works. You may record someone else’s song on your own record if:

1. It has already been commercially released on a record.

2. You pay the song’s copyright holder (the writer and/or publisher) a fee - a mechanical royalty based on the “statutory rate.” That rate is currently 9.1¢, for songs under five minutes long. It increases periodically.

3. You pay this fee for every recording you manufacture on a fixed medium such as CD, download/mp3, cassette, or vinyl, whether you sell the recordings or give them away for promotion, etc.

4. You pay 9.1¢ per song. So if you use four songs by the same writer, you must pay 36.4¢ per CD made.

5. You pay the copyright holder of this song every month.

If these rules sound a bit harsh, put the shoe on the other foot. When someone uses one of your songs on their album, think of how it benefits you to have them held to the above standards.

The only way around these compulsory license laws is to negotiate a rate with the copyright holder to change some of the above terms. Should the copyright holder not want to negotiate with you, you must adhere to the rules.

So, while no one can stop you from recording their song once the song has been commercially released, it doesn't mean that you don't have to pay the to speak.

One note, you can NOT substantially change the song you are recording - neither the lyrics nor the melody. Doing so creates whiat is called a "derivative work," and only the copyright holder can do this. Similarly, you can not record a snippet of someone else's song (sort of like recording a sample).

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Published: Fri, 25/08/2006 - 04:28