A Mechanical license is a license for the reproduction of a copyrighted musical work for the use in items such as CDs, tapes, records, or any other physical recorded copy of a musical composition. It can be obtained by a third party to receive rights to reproduce (ie. cover) the original work. This means that someone such as an artist can obtain a mechanical license and then reproduce the musical content of the work. For example, Katy Perry’s song “Roar” was written by Katy Perry, Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Henry Walter. Mechanical royalties (aka. “mechanicals”) would be collected and distributed to these writers and associated music publishers for purchases of physical and digital (non-streaming) forms of the work. It is also important to note that it does not mean that the artist with the license can take parts from the original phono record, sample it or “quote” a part of the song in their own recording. Other licensing must be done in order to achieve that because this would be considered a derivative work. Additionally, it does not cover the broadcast, or streaming of the recording. Broadcast and streaming fall under the area of performance licenses and performance rights.
Mechanical licenses can be negotiated between performer and writer/publishers however, there is also a compulsory mechanical license which can be obtained to reproduce a work without the approval of the copyright holder. The current compulsory mechanical royalty rate is 9.10 cents per copy sold or 1.75 cents/minute.
History of Mechanical Royalties
The concept of the mechanical license began in 1909 with the creation of the Copyright Act. The compulsory mechanical license developed out the of the fear of the Aeolian Company of gaining a monopoly on piano rolls. The Aeolian Company reached agreements with various music publishers that gave them the exclusive right to make piano rolls. To discredit this monopoly, the copyright act was created which allowed anyone that wanted to use a song for mechanical reproduction to do so. At the time, the requirement was to pay a $0.02 royalty rate which of course has increased overtime to the royalty price that is established today.The price for royalties also changes based on the length of the song.
In America, most mechanical licenses are collected through the Harry Fox Agency. The Harry Fox Agency was established in 1927 by the National Music Publisher’s Association. It was created to provide information, monitor, and act as a clearinghouse to publishers, licensees, and various musicians. The Harry Fox Agency also collects and distributes royalties for musical copyright holders. Forms to obtain a mechanical license can be found through the Harry Fox Agency.