Songwriters and Publishers Get Royalties…What About Performers?

Oops!  I made a slight mistake.  In paragraph 2, the new performance royalties include satellite radio, cable TV radio stations AND certain types of internet broadcasts.  Sorry about the missing info…by all means, continue reading. 🙂

Performance royalties for sound recordings…this is a fairly new concept here in the United States, even though this type of royalty has been in place in Europe just as long as standard performance royalties (the ones collected in the U.S. by standard performing rights organizations or PROs such as ASCAP and BMI).  Yeah, we can be a little slow sometimes.  In 1995, the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act (DPRA) was passed and we started to catch up a little.  

You see, the DPRA allows for the collection of additional licensing fees from certain types of Internet broadcasts, which then get paid to the copyright owners of the sound recordings as well as those who performed on those sound recordings. This includes Internet only as well as radio/Internet broadcasts by radio stations of all sizes.  So, if you performed on a particular recording, even if you aren’t the copyright owner of the recording, you could get paid performance royalties resulting from these certain types of Internet broadcasts.  Even though the DPRA was passed in 1995, it didn’t really grow legs until the second quarter of 2007 when Sound Exchange, the organization charged with the collection of these new fees, started a big marketing campaign.

The DPRA was especially controversial because of a major increase to licensing fees that webcasters were going to be required to pay.  Remember, these new license fees are in addition to the ones already paid to the standard PROs.  Many small radio stations and Internet only stations faced shutdown because the initial fee proposal was much too expensive.  Independent musicians were waiting for the punch line.  What was the point of signing up to get paid for internet radio play if all the stations playing your stuff had to close down?  Luckily (and due to a lot of protest and lobbying, I think), Radio broadcasters and Sound Exchange have been working together since then to reach agreements that are…well, more agreeable.

Another point of contention…the new performance royalties have been viewed by opponents as just another way for big record labels to line their pockets.  Yes, many record companies own the rights to specific recordings of songs and as a result will get paid a portion of these new royalties, but don’t forget about all the performers who will also get paid.  Bryan Calhoun, VP of New Media and External Affairs at Sound Exchange, who spoke at the 2011 Sync Up Conference brought up something I hadn’t even thought about:  This new royalty could be the way that many old timers who got screwed out of their song rights finally get paid what they’re due.  In fact, some already have.  As you may know, in the 50s and 60s a lot of songwriters unwittingly sold all the rights to their songs…usually for only a few hundred dollars.  So these people haven’t seen any royalties at all from the songs they wrote and performed on.  Performance royalties for sound recordings could go a long way toward remedying that situation.

What does this mean for you as a musician and performer?  If you’ve been doing session work or otherwise performing on sound recordings it means there’s another organization you need to register with.  It might seem like a hassle, but it’s free.  So, why not try and tap into another revenue stream? Even if you’ve only been a side man on a couple of recordings don’t assume it’s not worth the effort.  You might not get a lot of extra dough, but every little bit helps, right?  So, go to the Sound Exchange website and see for yourself.  It’s worth a look.

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Posted on June 22, 2011, in Business/Legal, Music Business and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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