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I see every performing band playing music I can recognized, and which I assume is copyrighted. What are the rules regarding this? Are all these bands in copyright violation? Or can bands just play popular music no matter who wrote the words and music?

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closed as off topic by American Luke, NReilingh Apr 14 '13 at 4:33

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As per the FAQ, legal issues are off-topic for this site. –  NReilingh Apr 14 '13 at 4:34
Sorry, I didn't read the FAQ for this group, but the last item there clearly says you don't want legal issues raised on this group. I looked at the available music groups and this looked most appropriate. I have posted in the OnStartups group which has a tag for Copyright. –  Patrick Moloney Apr 14 '13 at 12:08

3 Answers 3

In UK there are two bodies that collect on behalf of musicians - PRS - performing rights society, and PPL- phonographic perfomance limited.Both have pretty complex remits, too much so for revealing here, but have the power to charge people for performing songs , or playing songs, e.g. on radios, in public.In 2009 a shelf-stacker was pursued because she was singing in public without a licence.Good sense, however, prevailed.Some venues will ask for a list of songs performed, to submit to PRS.

If music played was written by the composer who died more than 50 years ago, then no permission or fee is needed,according to a faqs website.

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In Germany, typically GEMA https://www.gema.de/en/ collects and distributes the fees. Rules and regulations are rather complicated.

If you perform and it's typically a good idea to have a contract with the venue and to make sure the contract clearly states who is on the hook for that type of thing.

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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and I am not giving legal advice. These matters are generally covered by international laws and treaties that go back 100 years or so, but laws vary in different nations and locations. My comments are based on what I know about the music business in the USA.


Musicians are generally not responsible for paying license fees for performing copyrighted works.

Legally, performance royalty fees are generally paid by the owners of the venue (the club or concert hall where the musicians are playing) in a blanket license fee paid to the performing rights societies (for example ASCAP, BMI, etc. in the USA). The performing rights societies distribute royalty payments to the songwriters, publishing companies or rights-holders of the copyrighted songs according to an accounting method that involves a complicated scheme of rates and averages.

The laws for royalties on recording and videos are entirely different. If a band wants to record a cover of a copyrighted song and either distribute for free or sell recordings or videos, they have to strike a licensing arrangement on a per-song basis through a national clearing-house. In the USA, that is the Harry Fox Agency. There are fixed compulsory mechanical license fees for recordings, but for other uses (synchronization, for television or films; grand rights for stage productions and theater, and others), Harry Fox negotiates a fee with the people wanting to license the rights. Then Harry Fox keeps a percentage and passes the proceeds to the songwriter, publishing company or rights-holders.

I should point out that the extremely popular practice today of musicians or their fans in the audience making videos of live performances of copyrighted music, and putting them online on YouTube or elsewhere, is basically illegal. The staff of YouTube will delete such a video if the songwriter, publishing company or rights-holder makes a complaint stating that the songs in the video have not been properly licensed, and the person or party who posted the video cannot prove that they have in fact paid for a license. But many videos stay up on YouTube because it is more or less up to the songwriter, publishing company or rights-holder to file a complaint. As this practice has become more widespread, enforcement of the laws have become uneven.

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A couple of notes regarding the compulsory mechanical license: such licenses are only available for music which has already been released commercially as a "stand-alone" audio recording, and such recordings are restricted to using lyrics which have already appeared in licensed recordings. Subject to those constraints, anyone who pays certain price per copy per song (I think it's about 8 cents nowadays for songs up to 5 minutes) may produce and duplicate stand-alone audio recordings at will, regardless of how much the original copyright holder likes or loathes their rendition. –  supercat Apr 15 '13 at 16:57

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