A Primer on Music Performance Licenses (Sound Recording)

The United States of America holds a special place in the hearts of the children of France. Not only does America export fabulous music, we subsidize the music education in French schools through funds collected on the performance of the music that is not able to be distributed to American performers and copyright owners.

In France, and most countries throughout the world, royalties are collected on the public performance of both the song and the sound recording. A public performance royalty is collected for the musical composition, that is the lyrics and notes. A neighboring right royalty for the sound recording is the performance of the song.

In the United States historically only the creators and owners of the copyright in the underlying musical composition (the lyrics and notes) have the right to collect a public performance royalty in the U.S. There is a much more limited right for the performers and owners of the copyright in the sound recording to collect a performance royalty.


In 1995, Congress enacted legislation to grant the owners of the copyrights in sound recordings the exclusive right to the performance of the sound recording over digital and satellite transmissions. For a number of reasons, Congress created a compulsory license to make it “easy” for digital and satellite broadcasters to use the music without having to go to the myriad of copyright owners to directly license music. One organization, SoundExchange, was charged with collecting and distributing the license fees.

The legislation was amended a few years later to clarify that the royalty collected for the digital and satellite transmission of sound recordings is split 50/50 between performer and copyright owner. In fact, the split is really 50% to the sound recording copyright owner, 45% to the featured performer and 5% to session artists through a fund AFTRA and AFM manage.

Right now only satellite and digital broadcasters have to pay a license for the transmission of the sound recording. Terrestrial broadcasters, among others, do not have to pay for the use of the sound recording. There is hope that parity may be addressed this term in Congress.

Until the United States requires a license for the performance of the sound recording regardless of the means of transmission, the funds collected in other countries for the performance of sound recording are generally not available to American performers and copyright owners.

For More see:  A Primer on Music Performance Licenses (Musical Compositions)

About Nancy Prager

Nancy Prager is an attorney based in Washington, D.C. She represents a wide range of clients on matters from intellectual property to estate planning. Before starting her own practice, she practiced with firms in Memphis and Atlanta, as well as providing business development services to technology companies. She launched her practice to offer strategic legal services to clients at an affordable rate. Additionally, Nancy is a sought after speaker and writer on issues related to the convergence of intellectual property, technology and media. Nancy was asked to write a series of commentaries for News.com on the emerging legal issues related to the transmission of content on the internet. She has spoken to organizations and conferences around the country on issues related to the convergence of technology, content and intellectual property, as well as strategic legal issues for companies, individuals and artists. Journalists often rely on Nancy as a resource for emerging legal issues. Nancy has a strong commitment to social justice. She has founded, or co-founded, a number of organizations and programs that provide tangible services to their constituencies. For example, while a student in law school she developed the Domestic Violence Advocacy Center that provides legal services to victims of domestic violence. Additionally, she has been involved with a number of organizations that provide services to children and their families, including serving on the boards of the Harwood Center and Porter Leath Children’s Services. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is a member of the District of Columbia Bar, the State Bar of Georgia and the State Bar of Tennessee. She has been a member of a variety of legal organizations including the Copyright Society of the USA and the American Bar Association.
This entry was posted in copyright, Copyright Policy, Neighboring Rights, performance royalty, SoundExchange, Webcasting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Primer on Music Performance Licenses (Sound Recording)

  1. Pingback: A Primer on Music Performance Licenses (Musical Compositions) « Reasonable Balance

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