Unit 39: Assignment 4 – Royalties & Copyright


With digital music downloads and online streaming services dominating the music industry right now, its important that systems are put in place to ensure the owners and creators of the music get what they deserve. The artist ends up with less than you might think, with labels, distributors, publishers and other parties taking cuts of each sale. This essay will discuss how the revenue is split between artists and third parties, who take a cut, and how royalties are collected. This is all closely linked to copyright laws governing who owns the piece of music.

Musically speaking, a royalty is a payment made to the legal owner of a piece of music/copyrighted work by those who wish to make use of it for the purposes of generating revenue. Royalties are paid to members of PRS (Performing Rights Society) when their work is performed, broadcast, streamed, downloaded, reproduced, played in public or used in film or TV. These sources are regulated by PRS and PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited).

Shops, restaurants, or in any business where recorded music being played on a radio, on a CD, TV, streaming site etc., requires a PRS and PPL license. A blanket license is used to give the rights to use a large amount of music for a set period of time; these are used in cases where individual song licenses would be difficult to manage. As an artist, you can register your music with PRS and PPL to enable radio stations; TV stations, clubs, restaurants and other venues awarded a blanket license to play your music. Performance Rights Royalties are paid to artists, labels and publishers that hold all or some of the copyright. When signing deals with publishers it is important to read the contract details extensively otherwise you may sign a deal that’s no in your favour and sign the rights away to one or all of your works.

Another type of royalty is the mechanical royalty. A mechanical royalty is paid to the songwriter/s and publishers when a copy of their original work is pressed either physically onto a CD or vinyl, reproduced electronically, released or sold. Record labels and anyone releasing albums or works by the artist pay it. In order to reproduce the artist’s music, you need permission from the songwriter via the MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society).

                  As an artist, you may even receive royalties from merchandise. Tour merchandising companies license your name and likeness and then pay you a royalty on the items they sell. To receive royalties, you may be required to play to a certain number of people at all of your shows. Your manager will help you negotiate your tour merchandising royalty.


With the rise of electronic music, containing a lot of sampled media, its more important than ever to distinguish who owns what in order to receive appropriate proportions of profits. Not only that, but copyright ownership also protects from other people copying and exploiting your work for their own personal gain.

Copyright is the basis behind all royalty payments, it defines the ownership of intellectual property, in this case, music, lyrics and sound recordings. When songwriters write the songs, the works are automatically copyrighted when they are in the completed form of printed sheet music or a recording. The duration of copyrights in sound recordings are as follows:

-copyrights for recordings not published or communicated to public lasts 50 years from when recording was made

-copyrights for recordings published within 50 years of when it was made last for 70 years from the year it was first published

-copyrights for recordings not published within 50 years of when it was made, that have been communicated to the public last for 70 years from the year it was first communicated to the public

-copyrights for recordings first communicated to the public within 50 years of when it was made and then published at a later date (but within 70 years of its first communication to the public) last for 70 years from the year it was first published

The reason behind 70 years is that it roughly covers the lifespan of the artist. There have been cases in which rock acts have outlived the copyright of songs they wrote and therefore can be copied and exploited by people at the expense of the original songwriter/artist. Despite copyright being in place, in order to sue for copyright infringement, the song must be registered with the copyright office.

To conclude, copyright laws must be considered and carefully followed when sampling and recording music to prevent possible lawsuits against you for plagiarism. There are companies that regulate copyright and ownership of music and its components that collect and distribute royalties to the rightful owners.


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