Music Distribution And Copyright Licenses

Last updated on: May 24, 2022


Copyright law protects a person’s original creative work by giving the person different rights to control and allow others to use his work.  These rights, for example the right of reproduction or the right to publicly display the copyrighted work, are sometimes referred to as a bundle of rights.  A copyright owner can allow another person to exercise one or more of these rights through a license.  If a person uses any of the rights without the copyright holder’s permission, he can be sued for copyright infringement.

Music distribution, either through the distribution of physical CDs or through digital downloads, can be a good source of income for a business.  However, it is important for the business to ensure that before starting any distribution of copyrighted music, it has the proper license.  In most cases, the type of license that is used in this kind of business is a mechanical license.

A mechanical license is a license that allows the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted musical compositions on CDs, downloads, ringtones, and other media.  If making the CDs or other physical reproductions in a foreign country for distribution within the United States, your business may require additional licenses.  A person making cover songs for distribution also requires a mechanical license if the song is copyright protected.  Mechanical licenses are not exclusive licenses, and more than one person can be granted a mechanical license to the same song.

A mechanical license can be obtained through a licensing agency or by directly contacting the publisher of the music your business seeks to use.  A business seeking a mechanical license can also make use of the compulsory license allowed under the Copyright Act, which means you do not have to contact the copyright holder or the publishing company to seek permission.  Compulsory licenses are only issued for work that has already been previously distributed by the copyright holder, and the royalty rates for this type of license are set by statute.

If using a compulsory license, you have to make a regular accounting to the copyright holder to ensure you are paying all the royalties due.  Once the license is obtained, you can make as many copies as your license allows, bearing in mind that you pay for each copy produced.  The fee is figured out depending on the length of the song.

Neither a mechanical license obtained from a publisher or copyright holder, nor the compulsory license allows the licensee to use the music in a video, or to perform the work publicly.  If you want to use copyrighted music in a video, for example – for promotion or advertisement, you need a different license called a synchronization license.

Contact Us For Legal Assistance

If you are a small business seeking to distribute copyrighted music, it is important to ensure that you have the proper licenses in place to avoid getting sued for copyright infringement.   To discuss this and other copyright related issues, contact an experienced North Miami business law attorney at the Charlip Law Group L.C. for a consultation today.

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