Composer's Fees for Mechanical Music
By Bill Jelen
|The Harry Fox Agency in New York handles the administrative work of licensing and collecting mechanical royalty fees for many publishers in the U.S. Sometime between April 1996 and December 1996, they've implemented a policy change that will hurt the player piano roll trade.|
Section 115 of the copyright law says that once a musical composition has been set in a recorded medium and offered for sale, then the publisher must allow anyone else to record the work and offer it for sale. The publisher receives about 7 cents per unit sold as a mechanical royalty. As I understand it, the intent of the law was to allow the "little guy" access to new compositions.
When I sent in my last batch of license requests to Harry Fox, instead of the usual licenses, they returned an invoice, asking for a non- refundable pre-payment of $34.75 per composition to cover the first 500 copies of each recording. The accompanying letter said that the 500 unit minimum was as directed by the publishers. I agree that $35 doesn't sound unreasonable to cover all of their administrative overhead, but here is an example:
One of the new rolls in my catalog had four tunes on it and sold for $14.95. Under the new plan, the royalty on those 4 tunes would be $139. My entire production for that roll was 20 copies. That works out to a royalty of nearly $7 per roll, compared to 28 cents per roll under the old policy. This will adversely affect every small producer of piano rolls who are doing works that are not in the public domain.
I don't know if this 500-unit minimum represents a change in the copyright law, or if Harry Fox is just doing this on their own. If they are doing it on their own, then one should still be able to write to each publisher requesting the mechanical license and still pay the lesser rate, without minimums. I can't believe that the publishers will enjoy the onslaught of license requests that result in $1 of royalty.
[ Our member Stephan Kent Goodman is both a composer receiving
[ royalties _and_ a tremendous fan of mechanical music. Perhaps
[ he can tell us more about this important development. -- Robbie
(Message sent Thu 2 Jan 1997, 22:09:32 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)