Understanding Music Copyright—By
Streaming, Music Videos, and Licensing
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
written by: David Frazee
I know how important copyright is, and I know that it can also be completely confusing and overwhelming… so I’m breaking it down and going through it, bit by bit.
Stream Digital Versions (Audio only)
You know some of your fans are all over the streaming services, such as Pandora, Spotify, and XM radio. While you don’t want to put all of your music on there (since they won’t buy it if they can stream it for free or almost free), you are interested in offering two songs off of your newest album—one is an original, and one is a cover.
But streaming is a bit more complicated than it seems, and you might have no idea what rights are involved with putting your music out there. The good news is I’ve done some digging for you.
Streaming companies gain a license from musicians to play the recordings; the particular license depends on whether the streaming service is interactive or not. An interactive service—such as Spotify—allows the user to select the exact songs they listen to. In that case, the company would have to obtain the right to “digital performances of sound recordings” from the copyright owner. On the other hand, non-interactive services—like Pandora or XM Radio—provide a pre-programmed or semi-random combination of tracks; with these services, users cannot control exactly what song plays or when. These services need a “statutory license.” SoundExchange is a service authorized by Congress to administer statutory licenses.
Additionally, streaming digital music is considered a public performance, so the services need to obtain performance rights to perform underlying musical composition.
So, to stream music online, you will likely need to transfer the underlying performance rights in the musical composition and the right to the digital performances of your sound recording to the service providing the streaming.
Unless you have given up some of your rights, you have the right to place your own music online or on the radio.
If you have not already created a digital version of a song someone else created, you will need a mechanical license to create that sound recording in digital form and to stream that song. Again, most copyright owners use the Harry Fox Agency to manage this interactive streaming license. Additionally, you will need a public performance license for the musical composition, and you will need to pay the performance fees to the correct PROs. After acquiring the proper rights from the original song owner or publisher and creating your version, you will need to give the service the right to the digital performance of your sound recording.
Creating a Music Video
In an effort to promote your new album, you’ve taken the best songs—the one with the killer hook, and the crowd pleaser—and come up with crazy-awesome concepts for a music video. You’re ready to start production, but you want to make sure you cover all the bases first.
When you create a music video of your original songs that is not being live streamed, your reproduction, distribution, and synchronization rights come into play. “Synchronization” is a special kind of right not precisely defined by law; that said, it is generally understood to be part of your reproduction rights and comes about anytime visual images are placed with your music.