The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works made copyright international law for the first time in 1886. During this period to copyright a piece of music was by writing the composition on sheet music or player piano rolls. As music and technology have progressed, additions and extensions have been applied to copyright law. Nowadays to copyright music now you can record your works (on any format), post it to yourself by recorded delivery (write on the envelope what the contents are – song list), keep a receipt and do not open the sealed envelope when it arrives in the post or sig up to one of the royalty collecting associations. When creating music the person or entity needs to copyright their material to claim ownership. This ownership of copyright can then allow other corporations in film and music, multimedia houses or newspapers to reproduce and distribute copies of these works – for this the copyright holder will sign a legal binding document to license the right to copy the original work to the various parties involved.
The copyright owner is the songwriter(s) that writes the song (lyrics and music) as well as the publisher who buys the copyright from the songwriter (by means of a publishing deal). If the songwriter owns the copyright and the publisher does not have a percentage of royalties, the songwriter will need to form a publishing company, so that the copyright is then legalized. Alternatively pay the publishing company an admin fee without a split of royalties. There are so many legal disputes from non-famous to the rich-and-famous superstars about not being paid or not having copyright of their material protected. It’s imperative to always keep the business side of any business in check – and that includes creative-heads.
The types of licenses are for broadcast, performance, pre-cleared, synchronization and master use given to a person or entity to broadcast, recreate, or perform a recorded copy of the copyrighted work. There are different types of deals that can be drawn up: a one-off fee for use over a certain period or payment for royalties calculated by the amount of copies sold or the total revenues reached through distribution. If predicted to be a successful major film that the music is licensed to then compensation for this is incorporated into the license agreement.
Broadcast includes playback (replaying) in public places like bookstores, bars and restaurants to the people in these venues. The broadcasting includes radio, podcasting, CD playback, TV and webcasting. Most venues nowadays (saying most as in worldwide) have to pay a license to play music in their venues – grocery stores and elevators that broadcast music pay for this through organisations like Muzak. Radio stations normally pay a flat fee for the year called a blanket license – radio stations do an estimate average number of times each song is paid so that the performing license rights associations can work out the dividends – hopefully with digital times this will change and songwriters will be paid the real figures due to them. From other venue licenses, royalties are paid out to the artists. The venue submits a playlist of songs that they play to the relevant performance rights organisations (PRS, ASCAP, BMI).
Performance licenses are for either the original lead male or Female Singers (artist) or for the live bands performing covers to have permissions to perform these songs live. Pre-cleared music is the license agreed for a pre-agreed price for legal and distribution use in film, TV, video, multimedia, advertising, internet, events and programmes. Synchronisation licensing is when a piece of music is created fit specifically to moving picture to enhance effect – for instance animated Disney films have to have music matched to the what the cartoon character is doing. Master usage is for the right to use an entire song (musical work) written for a movie soundtrack, lead-in at an awards ceremony, bumper or background for motion picture – like ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion for the film Titanic.
For a songwriter, licensing is one of the best ways to make money in the music industry. A publisher representing a songwriter will handle the chasing and tracing of where their music is being played and how frequent it used. Usage plays a big factor and for every time a piece or whole song is played the songwriter should be paid royalties. When the songwriter has a number one worldwide – there are various mediums that the publisher and media house need to follow up on. All songwriters are paid in arrears – and most associations paying out only pay out quarterly or yearly. That is a long time to wait to pay the rent and feed the children! So remember when signing to a publisher and mechanical or performing rights association, ensure they have a very good reputation for finding your money and then paying up – this includes ensuring that your license contracts are in your best interest, work on getting as much as possible for the usage upfront and in royalties – do both!