In an increasingly audiovisual world, every personal or commercial endeavor requires music to stand out in the jungle of content that floods in the internet nowadays, and you might think that it is just a matter of selecting a music that you like for your project and use it, but it is not that simple. If the use that you plan to give to a song is personal (e.g. listen to it on your smartphone or add it to a home video that is not going to be monetized, there are no worries, but if you want to use it commercially or add it to big platforms such as Youtube, that is, if you want to work with music in a professional way without running into legal problems, you need to be aware of the key concepts surrounding royalty-free music.
Royalty-free is not the same as copyright free
These two terms are usually interchanged, but they are not the same.
Copyright refers to the intellectual property. When a person creates a piece of music, he owns the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell or distribute this piece. Therefore, there is not such a thing like copyright free, because the copyright exists automatically when the work is created. What can happen is that it has expired, and then it falls into the public domain.
Royalty-free music means that someone had to pay for a license that allows him to use a musical piece. It is a one-time payment and the license lasts as long as the buyer needs it. The author will still have the copyrights so is free of selling it to future buyers.
Royalties are not the same as licenses
These two concepts are misunderstood as well. Royalties are the payments generated for the use of musical composition. Licenses are legal agreements which grant permission to use a musical piece under determined conditions.
How are you going to use the music?
According to the platform where the music is going to be reproduced, the royalties are as follow:
- Performing right royalties: When a song is sung, played, recorded on radio, television or through the internet, live concerts or programmed music, the copyright owner earns royalties.
- The mechanical royalties: These are the earnings obtained by the author of a musical piece each time it is reproduced for sale on CDs, DVs or downloaded through digital services.
- Synchronization: When reproduction of music is made onto a soundtrack of a film or TV show, the TV station or the producer need to pay “sync” royalties.
- Print Music Royalties: these are the payments earned when the musical piece is printed and sold (sheet music, folios or song books).
- Grand Rights Royalties: These are royalties that cover the right to perform a musical work in a dramatic context such a Broadway show.
Who is responsible for collecting the royalties in the music industry?
Each country has at least one copyright entity. In the US there are three major entities called Performing Rights Organizations (PRO´s): BMI, ASCAP, SESAC. Their job is to collect and distribute royalties on behalf of the copyright owner.
Creative Common (CC) is a non-profit organization based in Mountain View, California, dedicated to granting authors the power to decide the limits of exploitation and use of their work on the internet.
Copyleft music is a practice that allows the author of the work to exercise his right to allow the free distribution of copies and modified version of his creation. That is the author allows his work to be used, copied, modified and freely distributed.
As a conclusion, beyond the spiritual joy that music brings, it needs to be seen as an industry with a legal framework where the musicians (songwriters and performing artists) protect their copyrighted pieces, and users should protect themselves from reproducing music without taking into account the appropriate permission, that is, infringing the owner’s right to that work.