9 Facts on DIY Rights Management

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Portrait of Leaders at New Music Night (Photo by J.Senft Photography)

By Tony Hinds

The meeting of art and commerce can be a tricky one, and one key place where these two worlds meet is in the realm of copyright. Music copyright can seem daunting to even a seasoned musician, its complexities feeling insurmountable, like an instructional manual written in an unknown language. Thankfully, there are ways to guide yourself through this complex, yet crucial topic. Manitoba Music recently held a workshop with Roland Deschambault tackling the topic, and has staff and resources on hand to help navigate the intricacies. 

To get you started, here are nine keys to unlocking and understanding the nuances of music rights management.

1. When and how can I earn money from my music copyrights?

There are a plethora of ways in which artists can turn a nifty profit from their tunes. Any songwriter, master recording owner, or performer could be entitled to monetary royalty payments when their music is purchased, streamed, played on the radio, sampled, covered or performed in public, played on YouTube, sold as sheet music, or used as the soundtrack to a movie, television show, advertisement, video game or visual/ audio presentation.

2. What is intellectual property, and who owns the song?

Copyright is a classification of intellectual property, not dissimilar from a trademark or patent. Intellectual property refers to the legal rights of creations in the artistic field. Once a song has been recorded or written, the songwriter (or composer) has exclusive monetary rights to that piece of music. This includes the right to duplicate, distribute, have the first public performance or conceive derivative works of the song.

In band situations, it's not uncommon for there to be a primary songwriter who composes the melody, harmony, and lyrics of the song, which is essentially the song's skeleton. The primary songwriter owns 100% of the intellectual property of that song. At this point, it's not uncommon for bands to ask: Should we be dividing that 100% equally among the band members? The splitting of songwriting royalties can cause heated disagreements, or even break up a band. Instead, band members should put on their business hats for a moment to figure out who contributed what to the foundation of the song. If the band contributes to the arrangement, but not the core songwriting, the songwriter and the band may decide to share the songwriting royalties, either through the official registration or through a separate band agreement.

3. What is music publishing?

Music publishing refers to the ownership and financial exploitation rights of songs via music copyright. Copyright laws in music publishing secure financial compensation for composers and publishers in exchange for the commercial use of their songs though mechanical royalties, performance royalties, licenses for synchronization, and print rights for sheet music. Publishing copyrights have two sides, a writer’s share and a publisher’s share. The rights are automatically in place for composers and can be licensed or assigned to a music publisher.

5. Who owns the publishing rights, and how is the money divided?

Publishing rights are divided 50/50 between the writer and the publisher. If you're a songwriter without a publishing deal, you own 100% of the publishing rights, both the writer and publisher sides. You can license or assign any portion of the publisher’s share to a music publisher or label. A full publishing deal would usually involve the publisher taking on the full publisher’s share, however many deals see the publisher or label take half of the publisher’s share (or one quarter of the full copyright) leaving the writer with the full writers share plus half of the publisher’s share, The writer becomes a partner in the publishing.

6. Where does the publishing money come from?

Publishing revenue can come from three unique avenues. The first is from mechanical royalties. As a songwriter or publisher, you're entitled to a royalty payment each time your material is reproduced. It could be on CD, vinyl, streamed or downloaded, even as a phone ringtone. In Canada, a mechanical royalty is equal to approximately nine cents per every individual manufactured copy, whether or not the copy has been sold. Independent artists who represent themselves as their own label can waive this royalty.

Any musician with songs available for sale should be advised to register their material with the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency, better known as CMRRA. The organization issues licenses for the duplication of musical works to individuals or organizations that make use of their material by reproducing songs on various media platforms. This includes mechanical licensing for the reproduction of songs on CDs, cassettes and other sound carrier products, as well as online music licensing for the reproduction of songs for distribution as downloads through sites such as iTunes, in addition to limited downloads, on-demand, streaming and webcasting. The CMRRA also oversees broadcast mechanical licensing for the reproduction of songs by radio stations and satellite broadcasters.

The second is from performance royalties. You're owed a royalty payment whenever your songs are publicly performed or covered. Organizations such as the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) collect and distribute royalty payments to their affiliated songwriters or publishers. These organizations collect on the basis of plays on terrestrial and satellite radio platforms, such as Sirius XM and KEXP, network and cable TV, internet radio, online streaming services such as Spotify and Google Play, and performances in live venues. Yes, it's true. You can even collect royalties on your own touring performances, if the venue is charging over $6 per person.

The third is from print rights for sheet music. The songwriter or publisher is entitled to royalty payment each rime your composition is reproduced in print form. We've all seen the sheet music books available in music shops, which can also be a solid revenue stream for established songwriters.

7. What is the difference between publishing rights, and master rights?

Each recorded song actually consists of two separate copyrights, which are not always owned or exploited by the same parties. In addition to the publishing rights for the songwriting, there is a second copyright for the master recording, meaning the specific performance fixed on a sound recording. The master rights are owned by the artists and/or record label.

8. Where does the money come from for master owners and performers?

Once again, there are several different ways in which money is earned for master owners and performers. Neighbouring rights are the only bit of copyright law that bypass authors and composers. They call for a royalty paid to the owners of the sound recordings and to the musicians who performed on those recordings.

If you are a self-released artist, and own your master rights, you are qualified to register your music and videos through Connect Music. This collection organization gathers the royalties for the master side of the copyright and distribute them accordingly.

An important step during this process to make sure you get every dollar you deserve involves your album's International Standard Recording Code, or ISRC. The purpose of this code is to track your music across the digital landscape, alerting collection organizations of any new royalty payment obligations. These codes can be issued free of charge via Connect Music. Often, bands will master a run of CDs and forget to embed the metadata into the album. Do not make that mistake. The IRSC code should be embedded in the metadata of your album during the mastering process.

Another key aspect of the process applies to neighboring rights of musicians or vocalists, working as featured or background artists on any sound recordings produced in the last 50 years. This applies to those band members who are not typically songwriters, yet still considered contributing performers. Every time your song is played on radio, satellite radio, TV, film, or performed in live venues, these collection organizations will gather royalties on your behalf and distribute it to you on a quarterly basis. These royalties can be accessed via such institutions as Musicians Rights Organization Canada (MROC), or the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists - Recording Artists' Collecting Society (ACTRA-RACS).

Neighbouring rights royalties are distributed as follows: 50% to the owners of the sound recordings, 45% to the primary artist performing on the sound recording, and 5% to the session or “background” musicians on the recording.

All of this also applies to satellite radio, streaming, and webcast royalties for the United States. Self-releasing artists should register as both artist and copyright holder on Sound Exchange, a U.S. based collection organization. Money is being collected for music played on these services, so if you have music playing on satellite or streaming radio in the U.S., there might already be money waiting there for you. 

9. When do the publishing and master rights both apply?

Both rights apply when dealing with synchronization licenses, which refers to when a song is used as the soundtrack for a television show, movie, video game, or advertisement. In this case, a fee is due to the songwriter or publisher, and the copyright owner of the master recording.

These royalty dues also apply to the sampling of your recorded music. If an up-and-coming hip hop artist wants to sample your beat, both publishing and master rights generate a royalty fee.

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