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Penny Ferguson Picture

   In a previous article, I touched on the topic of why writers should be paid for their songs. Because of some recent events with my song writing, I feel it is necessary to examine this topic more closely.
   After a recent song pitch, I heard from one group about to record a project. Could I send more songs for them to consider? Gladly, I could and I did. Quickly I heard back that there were two songs they wanted. Did I have tracks or could they have some made? I had a professional studio track for one song but not the other. I told the group how the track could be purchased, but pointed out to them purchase of a track gave them only the right to perform the song. If they wished to record it and the other song, they would need a mechanical license. A week went by. I heard nothing. I contacted the group and received no response. I am left to assume they lost interest at the  prospect of purchasing a mechanical license.

   First, let’s look at what a mechanical license is. I am not a copyright lawyer, so I will be keeping this very simple and basic. For our purposes, a mechanical license grants an artist the right to make an audio recording of and to distribute a song which they have not written. Mechanical licenses are extremely specific to a particular song, recording, artist, playing time, etc. A mechanical license must be secured for each song on a project, if they are not written by the artist or have not passed into public domain. When a song is in public domain, its copyright has expired.    Mechanicals are usually obtained from the song writer, their publisher or an agency which represents them such as the Harry Fox Agency (US) or the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA).  A song writer may act as their own publisher or they may be affiliated with a publisher or business which does this for them. Publishers either own or administer songs for the song writer. They provide other services as well such as pitching songs, producing demos, issuing licenses, collecting royalties, registering and enforcing copyrights, etc. Publishers provide more services than agencies such as the Harry Fox Agency or CMRRA, though they may engage such an agency to handle the licensing end of the business.    The Harry Fox Agency issues mechanicals for a minimum of twenty-five songs. The CMRRA issues them of a minimum of five hundred songs. Despite these minimums, mechanical licenses are still required when recording fewer copies. Many local and regional artists feel, since they are doing small product runs, mechanicals are not necessary. Quite simply put, if you record a song you did not write without a mechanical license, whether you record one copy or 5,000, whether you give them away or sell them, you are breaking copyright laws. God’s word tells us to uphold the laws of the land so long as they are not contrary to His Word.(Titus 3:1) I have had more than one discussion with local artists who are either misinformed on this issue or just plain dishonest. They argue their points, never having looked at a copyright law!
   While most agencies charge administration fees for issuing mechanical licenses, the fees are not exorbitant. Fees differ according to the length of song. The Harry Fox Agency web site states their fee for songs under five minutes is 9.1 cents US. For one hundred copies the licensing fee is $9.10, for one thousand copies $91.00. The CMRRA rate is 8.3 cents. That’s $8.30 Canadian for one hundred copies and $83.00 for one thousand copies. Rates increase by the minute or fraction thereof for songs longer than five minutes.

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