All You Need to Know About a Mechanical License Agreement: You’re an indie artist who loves Taylor Swift! You love her so much that you covered an album of her biggest hits. Your versions of Taylor’s songs sound brilliant, and your manager says you should sell the cover album on iTunes. But there’s one small problem! Before you can sell your album, your entertainment lawyer tells you that you need to first obtain a mechanical license from the copyright owners, i.e., the original writers of the song. But what is a mechanical license, you might wonder.In this article, we take a look at everything you need to know about a mechanical license.
What Is a Mechanical License Agreement?
A mechanical license is an agreement that gives you the permission to reproduce copies of the instrumental music or lyrics of a copyrighted song in an audio-only format (digital downloads, vinyl, CDs, interactive audio streams). This permission is also known as mechanical rights.
Why Do You Need a Mechanical License Agreement?
Whenever you release a recording of a song that was originally written by someone else in an audio-only format, even if it is just a very minor part of the song, you will require a mechanical license. These licenses are mostly used for cover songs, which are new recordings of you or your band members performing the copyrighted song.
We would like to reiterate that a mechanical license is needed regardless of how small a part of the song you use. If you wish to cover medleys, you will need direct permission from every copyright holder as they’re considered to be derivative works. There are certain exceptions when you don’t need a mechanical license. For instance, you don’t need this license for songs you wrote yourself or songs in the public domain.
Remember that mechanical licenses are just for audio products (interactive audio streams, digital downloads, CDs, etc.) If you’re producing a visual product, like a video or slideshow, you will need a synchronization license instead.
If you’re using an original recording that belongs to someone else (for instance, an actual Beatles recording featuring Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr), you’ll need a mechanical license to pay the composer for the right to use the song along with a master license to pay the artists for the right to use the recording.
How to Get a Mechanical License
You can get in touch with the songwriter/publisher directly and request a mechanical license.
Another way to obtain a mechanical license is through a licensing agent like The Harry Fox Agency.
Lastly, you can even get a mechanical license without permission from the songwriter/publisher by adhering to the terms outlined in Section 115 of the Copyright Act. You can get information about Section 115 at www.copyright.gov. Most people don’t take this route as it’s quite taxing and warrants quite a bit of ongoing administration and reporting once the license has been issued.
Regardless of which route you take, you will need to provide the name of the song, publisher, and songwriter. You will also have to give details about the precise length of your group’s performance of the song (you will have an idea of this from your rehearsals).
In addition, you also need to supply the name of your recording company and the song’s expected release date. Apart from that, you might also be asked for the record company name; this is the entity that’s officially responsible for the recording. Lastly, you will have to specify the type of use to be covered by the license, e.g., CDs, downloads, etc.
Cost of Getting a Mechanical License
The cost of getting a mechanical license depends on the length of the song’s performance. As per the existing US copyright law, the mechanical licensing rate is 9.1c for a song that’s equal to or shorter than five minutes in length or 1.75c per minute for songs that are longer than 5 minutes. This figure is then multiplied by the number of copies you wish to make. For instance, for 1000 copies of a composition recording that’s 7 minutes long, the total amount will be 7 x $0.0175 = 0.1225 x 1000 = $122.50.
Last Few Words
Remember, there are labels, publishers, and third parties dedicated to tracing copyright violators. This can result in permanent strikes on your account, take-down of your material, and even legal action. So make sure to play it safe and get your mechanical license to prevent copyright infringement.