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Chapter 14. Music and Intellectual Prope... > Resources for Understanding Royaltie...

Resources for Understanding Royalties and Copyrights

Understanding how copyright laws apply to music and how it’s used in broadcasting, film, and the Internet can be complicated, but there are a number of websites available to help explain the details of getting the rights to a piece of music for your podcast.

  • The Harry Fox Agency


    The Harry Fox Agency is the organization that the vast majority of commercial music copyright holders use to administer the “mechanical rights” to their intellectual property. Mechanical rights are the rights to use an existing recording. If you hear popular music in a film or television program, the odds are very good that the rights were negotiated through, and administered by, the Harry Fox Agency. The website includes a great deal of information on standard licensing rates, the procedures to follow to request a license, and what you should expect as you move through the process.

  • BMI


    Broadcast Music International (BMI) is an organization that collects license fees for public broadcast performances—including radio, television, and Internet airplay—on behalf of composers, publishers, or their agents. BMI is one of the key organizations involved in figuring out how the royalty structure for music in podcasts will work. Check their website for details of the current state of royalty payments, and to listen to the BMI podcast of new songwriters.



    The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is the organization that collects royalties for the public, non-dramatic performance of a work. When a concert takes place, ASCAP is the organization that takes care of collecting the royalties on behalf of the songwriters. Since many performances are recorded for later distribution, ASCAP becomes involved for the public performance piece of the royalty puzzle.

  • RIAA


    The Recording Industry Association of America is the trade group made up of record producers and distributors. Since most people listen to music via recordings, the RIAA cares deeply about making sure that the recordings heard are legitimate. The RIAA is one of the groups that has expressed grave concerns about the effects of podcasting on artists, and is a key to any industrywide agreement on the royalty structure for podcasts involving music.

  • SoundExchange


    While the organizations listed so far deal with the rights and royalties for the composers or songwriters, SoundExchange is concerned with collecting royalties for the performers. Like BMI and ASCAP, SoundExchange is a central collection organization for performers, allowing those who broadcast recordings to have a single agency to deal with. The SoundExchange website has a ton of information on the state of performer royalties.



    SESAC does the same sort of thing that BMI and ASCAP do; it simply represents a different group of songwriters and composers. SESAC is smaller than either BMI or ASCAP, but may well be the representative for the composer you’re interested in. Look at the website to see the approach that SESAC takes to figuring out how many times a particular piece of music has been played, and thus the amount of the royalty to be paid.

  • How Do Royalties and Music Publishing Work?


    Bug Music is another agency that administers royalties and licenses for copyright holders. This FAQ page has a great set of explanations of the terms and procedures you’ll be using when you go to license music for a project. The language is simple and easy to understand even if the application of some concepts (number of listeners for an online program, for example) isn’t.

  • Public Domain Music


    The definition of public domain music is fairly simple: It’s music for which the copyright has expired, or for which the copyright owner has explicitly given ownership of the rights to “the public” at large. The practical impact is that you won’t have to pay royalties to use public domain since there’s no one to whom you can pay the fee. How do you know whether a piece of music is in the public domain? Going to this site is a good way to begin to answer that question. This site has lists of pieces that are in the public domain, as well as sound files of recordings that have passed into the public domain.



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