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BMI royalties are performing right royalties, which are earned when a musical work is performed publicly. Public performance occurs when a song is sung or played, recorded or live, on radio and television, as well as through other media such as the Internet, live concerts and programmed music services. BMI grants licenses to perform, use or broadcast music from its extensive repertoire to hundreds of thousands of users of music in public places, such as radio and tv stations, hotels, clubs, colleges, restaurants, stores, and more.
The “mechanical” right is the right to reproduce a piece of music onto CDs, DVDs, records or tapes. (Non-mechanical reproduction includes such things as making sheet music, for which royalties are paid by the publisher to the composer.)
When reproduction of music is made onto a soundtrack of a film or TV show, the reproduction is called “synchronization,” and the license that the TV or film producer needs to obtain is called a synchronization, or “sync,” license.
Mechanical royalties and synchronization fees are paid by record companies and film and TV producers directly to the copyright owner, usually the publisher, or his or her representative. The Harry Fox Agency, 601 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001, (212) 675-2707, harryfox.com, represents many U.S. publishers in granting mechanical and synchronization licenses and collecting fees for them from the record companies and producers who need them.
Your composition is copyrighted automatically when the work is “created,” which the law defines as being “fixed” in a copy or a recording for the first time. The registration of your copyright is recommended, but not required. BMI does not copyright works for you.
If you wish to copyright your works, which we recommend, visit copyright.gov.
Public Performing Right
The exclusive right of the copyright owner, granted by the U.S. Copyright Law, to authorize the performance or transmission of the work in public.
Public Performance License
BMI issues licenses on behalf of the copyright owner or his agent granting the right to perform the work in, or transmit the work to, the public.
The exclusive right of the copyright owner, granted by the Copyright Act, to authorize the reproduction of a musical work as in a record, cassette or CD.
Harry Fox Agency, Inc. issues licenses on behalf of the copyright owner or his agent, usually to a record company, granting the record company the right to reproduce and distribute a specific composition at an agreed upon fee per unit manufactured and sold.
Music Publishers issue licenses as copyright owner or his agent, usually to a producer, granting the right to synchronize the musical composition in timed relation with audio-visual images on film or videotape.
Publisher information is available from our online repertoire search. If you need further assistance in locating complete publisher information, please contact our Research Department. You can also call the BMI repertoire information hotline at 1-800-800-9313 where you can request information on 3 song titles per call.
Registering your copyrights is not required but it is highly recommended since doing so will give you certain protection under copyright law in case you need to sue someone for using your song without your permission.
Registering songs with the Library of Congress puts your claim of authorship on the public record and may help if ever there is a dispute over credit or timing.
Of course, the Library of Congress does not provide legal defense in the face of stolen or infringed material, but can provide written or recorded documentation of your copyright should the need arise.
Yes, a new version of an old song, also called a derivative work, should be copyrighted, noting the ways it’s been altered from the previous version.
Although your song is technically copyrighted as soon as you finish writing it, it’s still a good idea to register that copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registering a song with BMI will only allow you to receive performance royalties if that song gets performed; it does not give you protection under copyright law.
For more information about copyright see BMI’s Songwriters and Copyright page.
You many also enjoy the “C in a Circle” series of articles on some of the nuances of copyright:
A “public performance” of music is defined in the U.S. copyright law to include any music played outside a normal circle of friends and family. Songwriters, composers, and music publishers have the exclusive right to play their music publicly and to authorize others to do so under the copyright law. This is known as the “Performing Right”. This right was designed to enable and encourage music creators to continue to create music.
When you see the words “All Rights Reserved” on a movie that you’ve rented or purchased, you know that playing that movie before a public audience is prohibited. The same restrictions apply to music that is purchased, broadcast, or live musicians that are hired to play in a public setting. Every business or organization must receive permission from the copyright owners of the music they are playing before playing it publicly.
The copyright status of the text depends largely on when it was first published in the US. Currently, anything published before 1923 is probably in the public domain. Works that were published before 1978 are likely in copyright for 95 years. Works published after January 1, 1978 are in copyright for the life of the writer plus 70 years. For a more detailed analysis of copyright status, please see this Cornell resource on Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.
If the work was never published, permission must be obtained in writing to use the work from the author’s heirs or estate. If the work was published, the publisher is most likely the copyright holder, and permission must be sought from them.