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Copyright Questions


Some copyright threads have broken out in various areas of MLR so I will move them here. From now on please post any questions you may have regarding copyrights here.

200 thoughts on “Copyright Questions”

  1. Hey Josh,

    My message may have gotten lost in the menagerie of posts…try doing a project through kickstarter.com

    I respect your stance on CC/PROs (although my stance is the exact opposite) I truly believe if you go through a service like kickstarter.com you should see some nice income without compromising your Copyright…

  2. Hey all! I’m a Creative Commons (Attribution) artist who’s starting to put more effort into licensing deals. Because of the CC licensing, I’m not a member of a PRO (long story short, they won’t take CC music, and that’s more than dandy by me).

    Given my situation of not caring about PRO split, what should I be looking for in a library company in order to optimize my return and marketability? Aside from Jamendo, are there any companies who prefer or require non-PRO music?

    When I license through someone like Music Dealers, and they retitle the work, what happens? Does it get added to their PRO account, and I get the cut from theirs? Or do they get their 50% and the rest gets “lost”? Or does neither side get anything?

    • I’m not sure why you wouldn’t want to join a PRO. It seems that you’re limiting yourself to a few libraries that don’t want PRO affiliated writers and shutting out the majority of companies that want you to a member of ASCAP or BMI. In the case of Music Dealers, for example, they would collect 50% of the publishing royalties. But all the writer money and 50% of the publisher money would go into a general fund and eventually be paid to someone else as part of a slush fund. You would lose out totally.

      I’d reconsider your decision to avoid the PROs. Why would you intentionally want to miss out on potentially thousands of dollars each year in royalties?

      • Without getting into a debate into the mafia-esque tactics of the PROs, here’s a summary of the dispute between them and Creative Commons:


        I’ve built a strangely large audience by licensing all 170+ of my songs as Creative Commons, and I’m deeply personally and philosophically committed to the license, and to offering no-strings-attached free music for my fans to download and use in projects (with attribution).

        That said, I want to start making more money through traditional licensing that doesn’t fall under CC-BY (even if that means leaving royalty money on the table). So, back to the original question – what types of services would be best for my situation?

        • Hey Josh,

          I’m a long time fan of your music, but there’s a slim chance that a TV/Film producer will pay you any sort of respectable license fee for your music since you’re so adamant about giving your music away for free.

          Maybe try something like kickstarter.com, I can see you making a nice income from a service such as that, probably a better income than similar artists who work their tails off trying to license their music…

    • you have to go with a PRO. If you take tour music seriously. Join one. It is the only way to make the money you deserve. Look at the thousands upon thousands of Artists who belong to them. they do not join it just to join. Take a step back and take good look at your Career and decide which one (PRO) you prefer And join so you will get your just rewards.

        • I applaud your efforts to not join a PRO. I joined one and my earnings have been pitiful so far. Don’t let anyone make you seem like an amateur or ignorant because you want to do something different. I am not sure you will get any help here since most people are trying to make a living from music royalties.

          Just keep searching within yourself and you will find a way to be successful. And please do not forget to enjoy making music. I got so caught up in trying to make money that I lost the joy that music brought me.

          • “And please do not forget to enjoy making music. I got so caught up in trying to make money that I lost the joy that music brought me.”

            Amen – I recently got caught up the same way – I decided to get back to making the music that I dig whether it sells in a library or not – it didn’t feel right forcing it –

        • >I’m taking a different path<

          I don't mean to be glib but..to where?

          Comparing the PROs to the mafia is unprofessional, and refusing to join a PRO is simply naive. That's where the money is …NOT sync fees. Belonging to a PRO does not preclude writing for a library that does not pursue backend money. It's a direct license, which is completely permissible.

          • Hello Josh,

            I apologize if my response seems harsh, or jaded, or whatever.

            I respect your passion/feelings about giving your work away. But, other than for humanitarian purposes, who else does that? Framers do not give away their crops, plumbers, carpenters and electricians do not work for free, neither do doctors, lawyers, or the clerks at the grocery store. I agree with oontz, once you’ve given your work away that is what film and TV producers will think it’s worth — nothing.


            • Again, not looking for a holy war here, or condescending lectures – just advice. I’m already making a living wage through my “free” music, and I have millions of listeners, so I’m not eager to dive back headfirst into a 20th century music industry that doesn’t exist anymore. I’m just looking how to maximize what I’m making within the parameters that have worked out very well for me so far.

              I’m looking into whether I can register with a PRO under a different artist name with the same music, but it sounds like a lot of the legitimate free uses of my music would still be indirectly tagged and billed. So PROs are not currently an option for me.

              Anyone with actual advice? ๐Ÿ™‚

              • Hi Josh,

                >I’m not eager to dive back headfirst into a 20th century music industry that doesn’t exist anymore.<

                It sounds as if you're the one being condescending.

                You are a singer songwriter, which is a whole different ball of wax from being a professional library writer, or someone like myself, who writes full-time for television.

                Now, I'll answer your question. When you join a PRO, you enter into a contract with the PRO that allows them to collect royalties for the tracks that you register with them. You are not obligated to register all of your tracks. You may enter into a direct license with an end user. That may be for money or, in your case, for free. However, once you register your tracks with the PRO it will be entitled to collect royalties on THOSE tracks. So, yes, they would pursue people who used the same tracks via CC, if they were used in a medium covered by the PRO. And you would be violating your contract with the PRO.

                Your best best might be to reserve some of your catalog for licensing through a PRO, and some for direct licensing. I don't think that you can have a foot in both worlds any way other than to keep them separate.

                You wouldn't need to sign up with a PRO under another name unless, of course, your concerned that it would harm your image with your CC audience. You know, kind of like a vegan sneaking into McDonalds. Oops there I go being condescending again. ๐Ÿ˜‰



                • Instead of using a pseudonym, and joining a PRO, you could consider registering instrumental versions of your songs under alternate titles. There is a fairly good market for acoustic guitar music.

                  • Thanks, Michael, that was helpful. I do have instrumental versions of everything, but those are Creative Commons as well.

                    Do you happen to know what constitutes a unique work in the eyes of a PRO (something where I could register and collect royalties on non-Creative Commons licenses, but where it wouldn’t conflict with the free version), or where I could find information about this? Could I change the title and keep the same recording, or use a new recording of the same song, or would I need new lyrics on top of the same recording, new lyrics on top of a new recording, etc?

                    • I’m going to be a typical lawyer, and revise my thinking a bit. You have an absolute right to direct license your music.

                      How the PROs handle your direct license when you also license the same piece of music through a licensing agent or library, I do not know.

                      I think that your best bet would be to contact a library and ask them how they feel about it AND if they would even want to represent your music if you’re already distributing it through CC. Contact ASCAP or BMI and ask them how they would deal with it.

                      There is a series of videos by Todd Brabec of ASCAP that you might find informative.
                      here http://www.artistshousemusic.org/node/5369/135 and on youtube.


          • It would be wise to note that most non-american PRO’s do NOT allow direct licensing. Even some american PRO’s have significant restrictions on direct licences. For example with SESAC you can offer a direct licence, but only if you charge the the same (or more) than SESAC does.

      • Sorry – I have to agree. If you are serious about a long term career within library music, you need to be registered with a PRO.
        As I, and others have said before : this can be a big money business – make yourself part of it.

    • Hi Josh-
      I checked out your site and your tracks. Very nice work.
      We are a popular non-PRO library and usually only accept instrumentals but we also have a vocals category that is getting more popular over time.
      We only work off of synch licenses and our composers are getting between $24.95 to, in some cases, $129.95 per track.
      We have two sites where we sell royalty free music
      Check out the sites and if you’re interested in submitting you can contact me via any of the contact links on the pages there.
      For your music I would suggest posting vocal and instrumental versions as packages.

      btw- I love your attitude and your succinct statements regarding modernizing attitudes about the music industry,
      “I’m not eager to dive back headfirst into a 20th century music industry that doesn’t exist anymore”

      PS- Sitting here cracking up to your song Skynyrds Number 4874. I’ve so been there and you put it into a song, perfect.


      • Hi Josh,

        To follow-up, don’t get me wrong

        I agree with your view and Mark’s to a degree….

        >”I’m not eager to dive back headfirst into a 20th century music industry that doesn’t exist anymore”<

        Anyone who follows a number of forums is well aware of the lament over how things aren't the way they used to be. Exclusive libraries complain about non-exclusives, but then they don't open their doors or their checkbooks to new artists. As a result, ambitious and motivated writers will simply find alternative means of distribution.

        But..it’s not simply a black and white,PRO or non PRO world. Diversify and never do things a certain way because they've always been done that way. By diversify I mean, it doesn’t have to be either / or. Have tracks on CC. Have tracks in a royalty free library. Have tracks in as many places as you can.

        I did my first "royalty free" library music 30 years ago. I received a percentage of every "tape and record" sold. At the same time, I had tracks in a well known exclusive library and received and received PRO royalties. (BTW I made far more money from the royalty free library.)

        I didn't think of the royalty free option for your tracks. I'm glad Mark spoke up. YES, that would be a viable way of monetizing THE SAME tracks that you have on CC without worrying about potential PRO issues. And, from what I can tell, because Mark is selective, you are far less likely to get lost in the crowd.

        If you want to generate PRO money down the road. Keep part of your catalog separate for the purpose.

        Nothing ventured –nothing gained.

        Best of luck Josh.


    • Hi Josh, thanks for discussing the concept of Creative Commons. As a composer who makes a great deal of my income from royalties, and I’m sure most other composers here are in the same boat, could you tell us a little more about why you prefer to use the Creative Commons model?

      I have some questions –

      Because you’re not with a PRO, can another composer theoretically take your music, add an instrument or two, and re-title it as their own track? What ‘attribution’ would there be for a re-mixed / re-arranged track if it sits in a library to be used on TV?

      I’m not condoning such a thing, but I just see the potential for you to get taken for a ride…

      Great music by the way.

      • Creative Commons is awesome – depending on your goals. Mine was to make the music I want, put it out there, hope that people enjoy it, and maybe make some cash doing it – but I wanted to keep art and business mostly separate, for my sanity. Putting my music out there for free has been an enormous boost to my fanbase. I have no doubts I’d still be a complete unknown if I’d tried to follow the old model.

        With CC, and specifically CC-BY, the only restriction is that people need to list me in the credits to use my music. This is *huge* for me, especially on YouTube, where partners need to use legal music, and they don’t know how to play the traditional licensing game for the most part. From one single video last year, I got 1,500 new subscribers to my channel in a week and a ton of new fans. Another had a viral video with one of my songs as the only audio, and has racked up 10,000,000 views so far. Thousands of other videos have used my music, as well. All because my music was out there and legally accessible to them.

        A tiny portion of music fans are still willing to support the artists they enjoy, and despite my music being free, I have enough total listeners to where I’m making a respectable amount of money through CD sales and downloads from that tiny percent.

        As far as your concerns, someone could take my music, and do anything they want to it – as long as visible attribution (in the format I specifiy) is given to me for anything the end product is used in. So in your example, this would be illegal, because the end result (a TV placement) would not give the needed attribution. Many/most CC artists use the NonCommercial clause to prevent “shady” situations, but honestly, my experience is that the benefits of CC-BY far outweigh the risks, and that someone who’s going to do something bad with your music probably doesn’t care about the license.

        • Hi Josh,

          Thanks for the detailed explanation.

          I think it’s important to note that you are an artist / singer songwriter.
          I don’t know how, or if , the Creative Commons model would work for library writers.

          The most obvious difference is that we are generally not seeking a fan base in the way that you are.

          It’s an interesting concept though.

          And congrats on your success!


    • Josh, I fully understand why you would not want to be a part of a PRO. As the contract fine print can be very limiting and unless you have a significant income from a PRO then the contractual obligations may be more harmful than helpful. For example Some PRO’s do not allow direct licensing, Most non-american PRO’s take away your right to collect (or not collect) for royalties on your own behalf, Some PRO’s will not properly collect for royalties in certain jurisdictions, Some PRO’s will not allow you to end your contract at all (lifelong commitment) and most others have a 2-3 year (auto-renewing) commitment.

      For some I agree it can be more beneficial to go non-PRO. There are plenty of music services that will licence your music if you are accepted. A few of them work specifically with non-PRO artists such as Partners In Rhyme, & iStockphoto.

      Congrats on leaving the traditional market behind, there are many dark secrets in the PRO world that on the surface look very attractive to artists; Especially some European PRO’s…

  3. I’m preparing to copyright a collection of pieces, registering the compositions together with the sound recordngs. However, there are a couple pieces I would like to include that I might want to tweak a bit in the future.

    I wonder if someone could enlighten me about how much can be changed before it’s necessary to re-register the sound recording. I realize that it would be required for significant changes, such as changing the instrumentation. But I’m wondering about things like tweaking the mix, e.g. altering the panning, adjusting the eq on competing instruments, or replacing one sampled bass or piano with another.

    Also, how much does it actually matter? I’m sure the important thing is that the composition itself is registered. But if I submit a piece to a library, and the recording is slightly different from the one I registered, could someone else copyright the recording and claim to own the master?

    Thanks for your help.

    • “wonder if someone could enlighten me about how much can be changed before it’s necessary to re-register the sound recording. ”

      I’m no expert but I called with that same question back in the 90’s and was told slight changes are fine –

      “Also, how much does it actually matter? I’m sure the important thing is that the composition itself is registered. But if I submit a piece to a library, and the recording is slightly different from the one I registered, could someone else copyright the recording and claim to own the master?”

      the important thing {in my opinion} is that the composition is registered – you can drive your self crazy with all the what if’s – it’s pretty rare that a song is stolen these days – besides how would someone know what the version you registered sounded like ?

      I used to get concerned about stuff like that {many years ago} and realized it’s just a waste of time & energy – write,submit & forget –

    • Always be aware that people can take tour music. If they feel they can use it to make money.
      I have ISRC codes on all my music that is in the public so if it is used I know. People do take your music to use for commercial purposes. It has happened to me, but not in quite a while. Especially in Europe they think that you do not know what is going on. The old saying “C.Y.A.”- {Cover your Ass.}

      • ISRC codes are not embedded into the music, they are written onto a CD. How does that help with music distributed via download or submitted via mp3?

        • There are some Music Libraries that ask for ISRC Codes & PRO’s such as ASCAP also do.
          And some Digital Download Sites in addition ask for the codes. And, depending on the program you use to burn your music or reference it they too imbed the codes. It just takes a bit of research to find who, what & where they ask for the codes.

  4. Hi there!
    Can anybody tell how much will cost to license the music track for video-template distribution? (just saw the project on free-lance site in which the guy offered 65usd for such license – thought it may be for single-use, but not for mass-production).
    Thanks in advance!

    PS: and thanks MichaelL and Bren for my prev post comments!

  5. I am seeking a format to upload my copyrights so as to keep my costs down. can anyone assist me in a proper way to save money to load 10-15 tunes so I do not need to pay the full amount for each tune?? Any help is much appreciated.

      • What Art said..and i’m pretty sure it’s the SR form you need – the online registration is the way to go,the great thing about it (besides the one fee) is that particular registration is open for 30 days after you pay – so if inspiration strikes during that period you can add it @ no extra charge – check the copyright office for all specifics though as i’m no expert ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Use the PA form if it’s just music and/or lyrics you are copyrighting, not an actual sound recording.

          Use the SR form to copyright a sound recording. However, you can copyright music, lyrics, AND sound recording all on the SR form so you do not have to file both a PA and SR if you have the acutal recording you will be pitching and haven’t yet done the music and lyrics.

          You can get plenty of info by checking with the copyright office.


    • It use to be, you could copyright a “batch” of music under one title. You only need to pay one submission fee, while listing all the other titles underneath…perhaps keeping record of all your titles yourself.

  6. Anybody having trouble lately uploading mp3s to the copyright office for copyright?
    I never had a problem till now when no matter what time of day I try, it times out and just spins until the connect is lost. Every page is about as bad loading as BMI. I woudn’t think it’s me since I don’t have that problem with everything. May have to go back to mailing them in.

  7. Wondering if anyone has any ideas about this one. I write songs and use the services of a freelance audio engineer who I pay by the hour when invoiced. Generally i’ll strum the tune and he’ll draw up a basic drum beat in Cubase to record to.

    Most of the time this sequenced drum beat is kept in the mixed track often with some embelishments in places verse/chorus etc. He operates the machine, i’ll play in the parts (guitars, keyboards, vocals etc).

    I had assumed that since I played and composed all the music parts, and payed for his engineering services, that i’d own all the rights to the songs. Is this right?

    It’s just that having read a contract for a music library recently it stated that it needed details of all contributors to a song and included engineers that may have contributed. Does the fact that the engineer drew in some drum beats into the sequencer and operated the recording machine while I performed the music parts constitute some element of contribution (in terms of copyright/ownership or performance) to the song?

    Has anyone any ideas? Plus has anyone got a sample contract for such a situation – is it neccessary?

    I read mixed messages in the few places where I find info on this – i’m in the UK so would the answer be the same as in the US (i.e. different rules and types of collection societies in terms of Composers/Master Owners/Performers).

    Be great if someone could provide the definitive response – thanks in advance

    • You should have your guy sign a work-for-hire, master release form. This would say [paraphrase, not legal language] that he performed his services as work-for-hire for a fee of $X and that you unconditionally own all rights to the master recording to exploit in any way, forever. No additional fees or royalties are due him.

      WHENEVER you use hired folks to work on your recording, this is a must for film/TV. It’s not usually needed for engineering/mix work but if you have any concern that it crosses over into the peformance area (such as creating beats), you should get this signed.

      In theory, you shouldn’t even enter any library or master/sync contract without having signed WFH agreements (if applicable). Those contracts all have you attest that you own all rights to your recording and are 100% liable for claims and damages.


      • Thanks, if anyone out there has a suitable Works-For-Hire agreement template that is valid for both the UK and USA that would be appreciated.

        • It’s an older, but goody. You may have to alter a line or two to fit your situation.

          Release Form

          With respect to your recording of the composition (s) and other material entitled:
          The Song(s):


          I hereby agree:

          All such master recordings and all records/CD’s and reproductions made here from, together with my performances embodied therein, are your property, free of any claims whatsoever by me or any person deriving any rights or interests from me, without limitation of the foregoing. You shall have the right to make records or other reproductions of the performances embodied in such recordings by any method now or hereafter known, and to sell and deal in the same manner under any trademarks or trade names or labels designated by you, or you may at your election refrain therefrom. I hereby waive any and all rights whatsoever in connection with the master recording(s) hereunder and the records, including any and all royalties or other payments in connection with the sales of the records.

          Acknowledgment of this agreement is hereby confirmed by my signature: ___________________________________

          Name: __________________________________________

          Address: __________________________________________

          City, State, Zip: _____________________________________

  8. Hello, there!
    I was offered to write some music stuff for a short indie film (~10min) but as a reward – only credits (low-budget project).
    Is there an other options with this kind of situations the music composer can earn some $$$?
    Is it common to industry to share with composer the future incomes (royalties) generated from film’s exploitation?
    If so – what are the typical splits (for exclusive and non-exclusive rights transfer)?

    PS: I heard that the composer’s fee in WFH contract is about 5-10% from budget – but mine film has zero-budget.

    Thanks in advance!

    • @Dmytro where do you live? The laws may different.

      **This is NOT to legal advice and I DO NOT represent you in this or any other matter**

      In my opinion, what you are doing is not work for hire. There are a number of criteria that must be met to be a WFH, and providing a free score isn’t one of them. In the US, if there is no writing/contract that transfers copyright ownership from you the the film company, then the film company has what is called an implied non-exclusive license.

      If I was doing the score, I would make it clear that I retain copyright ownership and publishing rights to the music. That way I could use it again or publish it as library music.

      You need a lawyer or agent to negotiate for you.

    • Dmytro,

      In my experience with low budget independent films, there is NEVER any “back end” profit. I would never agree to work on a film based on the producer’s hopes and dreams for a film distribution deal. If you want money for your film music, get paid up front, when you give the producer your music and a non-exclusive license to synch your music to his film.

  9. Hello all,

    Excuse me please, for the newbie question, but it will be very nice if someone clears this for me:

    What is the most fare and correct way to split the license fees (no PRO generated) between two writes A and B, with PRO shares 75/25%, when B has played, arranged, produced, mixed and mastered the tracks? A has only sung lead and/or backup vocals on the songs.

    Best regards.

    PS: Many thanks to Art for his great idea with this place, for putting it together and keeping it updated. Thanks also to all regulars and for there comments here.

    • As far as I’m concerned the only fair split is 50 / 50. I work with a vocalist co-writer occasionally and thats our regular split. The tracks in question simply wouldn’t work without her input and vocal ability.

      So if you want to be fair, just do a split that way. Works for me.

  10. Hello there!
    I have the question about the Performer’s and Master Rights.

    I made an orchestral arrangement of classic public domain composition (aria – without voice – underscore) and the client does not want if I will be selling (licensing) this instrumental on my own.
    He want to record a vocal and to exploit the new composition (instr+vox) exclusively.
    In other words he want to gain my Performer’s Rights and the Master Rights in exchange for percentage of future income.
    Which royalty split can be in this case (industry standart, etc…).
    Or how much it will cost to transfer my rights completely (with no future royalties – buyout)?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hmm… maybe MichaelL will fill in the gaps.

      My take on it:
      It sounds like it’s a co-arranging situation. In which case you would each claim 50% royalties from your PRO. The “exclusive” part would be an issue both of you must be in agreement with.

    • Hi Dmytro,

      My standard disclaimer applies. I do not represent you and this is not to be considered legal advice.

      I’m not sure what your agreement is with your client. Are they participating in the creation of this music in any way, financially or creatively? If not, why give anything away?

      You certainly should not share any of your writers royalties, unless your client or another writer is participating, such as providing new lyrics for the aria.

      If they are not participating in the creative end, I would only give them a portion of the publishing, perhaps proportionate to each parties investment.

      Are they paying for the recording and the singers etc.?

      • MichaelL,

        But… if the client is providing the vocal, then I would consider the client part creator of the sound recording. Though neither would be the writer, rather the arranger since it’s a public domain work.

      • Thanks a lot for your comments, John and Michael!
        Some clarifyings:
        The client will perform vocals, record and produce new composition including my orchestral arrangement (which is made completely by me with no third party participation).
        And there is no new lyrics or music etc… – this is the classic compostition (historical) with no changes (it is Aria from Eugene Onegin opera of P.I.Tchaikovsky – can be listened on my page if interessing).

        I can’t get how Writer’s and Publisher’s shares correlates with Arranger’s, Performer’s and Master rights/shares?
        Does Writer’s or Publisher’s share consist of Arr, Perf and Master parts?
        And logicaly, if I want to evaluate Writer’s (Publisher’s) share I have to keep in mind how much participation was taken in Perf, Arr and Master (producing the phonogram) stages?

        Sorry for noob questions but is realy complicated and I am realy thankful for yours comments!

        PS: Also, can you recommend a book about the music royalties, deals, rights, legal aspects etc (I mean The Essential Book Ever!)

        • Get Donald S Passman’s Book All you need to know about the music business
          Some people even refer to it as the “bible” you should also get Music Money and Success by

          The Brabec Brothers

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