In the same way that I can't buy a cd and broadcast it at a radio station without​ paying royalties, does a musician have to buy or pay extra to perform a piece?

  • This is different in every country. Which one do you mean? – RedSonja May 11 '17 at 8:35

In the US, compositions, performances, and recordings are all handled separately.

As a musician, you are free to make a recording of any music you want, and once you do so you own the copyright on that recording. If someone else records the same music, they also own a copyright on their own recording (note this does not mean something like recording a song off the radio or copying a CD or mp3... that would be a copy of someone else's recording). What gives value to one specific recording over another is some level of "officialness" or fame... if you make the song famous or wrote the original song, your recording is the one people will want.

For a performance, a copyright license is paid through the venue... but only to the author/composer (and the music and lyrics may be registered separately). This money is paid to a collection society like ASCAP or BMI. In the case where there is a specific recording of a work that everyone knows, if you cover that song, the band that originally recorded it and made it famous it gets nothing if they used a song first written by someone else. In the case of radio... there are no license fees. In fact, not too far in the past the money went the other direction, with labels paying radio stations to play songs for promotional reasons. This is called, "payola", and more complicated schemes still take place today.

Now for compositions. In the US, a printed musical composition is not different from any other printed work. That is, the author has a copyright... only they can make more copies under the law. But just like you can read a book out loud, you can play the music in the composition anywhere and in anyway that you want. Once the copy has been made, the author's say in how you use that copy is done. You can even re-sell it if you want. There is a difference, however, when it comes to performances. As a composer, you are legally entitled to a royalty when your music is performed. In exchange for this entitlement, you lose the right to license the work yourself, which means losing the right to say, "No" if your music is used at an event you don't like. Instead, there is a compulsory license, and the money is funneled through ASCAP or BMI. If the American Nazi convention latches onto your song for some chance lyric phrase, and get their own members to create a cover recording, you can't stop them from using it as long as they stick to ASCAP-licensed venues.

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  • This pretty much sums up what I know of the US situation, with the exception of the fact that each "score" needs to be licenced. Meaning if you have 7 parts to a piece each of those 7 parts needs a licence, though they are often sold together. – coteyr May 10 '17 at 18:42
  • @coteyr My understanding is you don't get licenses at all. A license is a legal permission, and in the context of copyright it is granted to allow someone to make a copy. With physical printed music, you aren't the one making a copy. The publisher makes the copy, and you merely purchase a copy that was already made... no license required on your end. The exception would be if your purchase takes the form of a digital PDF download of the music. In this case, you need a license for the incidental copies created in the process of downloading and printing the final output. – Joel Coehoorn May 10 '17 at 19:04
  • My point is that you can't just make 7 copies of the "conductor's score" and pass them out. You have to buy 7 distinct copies. But you are correct, the publisher/printer gets the rights to make the copy. – coteyr May 10 '17 at 19:09
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    That may be a publisher attempting to extend beyond what copyright law really allows (they will do this when they think they can get away with it, or if they're just based in a jurisdiction where they can enforce it via contract law or different copyright rules), or it may have been a digital file, in which case you (again) need a license for the incidental copying, and therefore they can use copyright law to control the terms of that license. – Joel Coehoorn May 10 '17 at 19:17
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    You don't need to have a copy of the sheet music at all! Many players can't read music and learn songs by ear. As was pointed out, a license to perform music doesn't require the sheet music, and buying the sheet music (usually) doesn't grant the license to perform. – Mark Lutton May 11 '17 at 1:34

The answers is likely to be dependent on the country a copyright legislation. In Germany paying for official sheet music edition is not sufficient, broadcast will always require a special licensing form listing all pieces affected and from that a Gema license is computed.

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    Right. To elaborate, any performance – even a small event in a pub – requires by default a fee to be paid to GEMA. The organisers should also send in a listing of all pieces performed, but AFAIK this is only mandatory for big / broadcast events, and otherwise often not done honestly. Ideally, the fees are then distributed to the original authors, though how well this works in practice is quite in another book. – leftaroundabout May 10 '17 at 23:34
  • "Copyright" and "performing rights" are two completely different things, and "Mechanical reproduction rights" (copying or broadcasting the content of audio or video recordings) is different from both of them. Each of the three is governed by different laws. It is perfectly legal to perform live music "by ear" with no sheet music at all, for example - though in the UK you could theoretically be sued for "defamation" if your performance was considered to be a parody of the original with the intention of mocking it, but that would probably only apply to music by a living composer.. – user19146 May 11 '17 at 5:53
  • @leftaroundabout Actually the performers (in my case a village brass band) are obliged to send Gema a list of which pieces they played. The understanding is that the composers/publishers get paid every time. The band has to be able to prove that they have paid for sheet music for every piece they play. This is true for free and fee-paying appearances. Theoretically bands are not allowed to make copies, but this is tolerated (because damn drummers always lose their music) as long as you have the originals back as base. The Gema fee is paid annually AFAIK as a one-time licence. – RedSonja May 11 '17 at 8:41

It's going to depend on the laws of the country. In U.K. there are two organisations which control payment for this sort of thing - P.P.L and P.R.S. The money for performances are paid by the venue. So, in a way, the band is paying, as it'd get paid more, maybe, if the venue didn't have to find this fee. Occasionally a band which I've played with has been asked for a list of performed numbers, but as far as the musos are concerned, no payment came from them. Music that has been published and purchased already has a proportion of its sale price assigned to the writers, so no extra charges there, either.

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    This is the way it is the US too and I'm pretty sure a lot of places: the venue has to pay for a license through something like ASCAP, BMI, etc. Even if you're a small business playing a CD or mp3 player, you're supposed to be paying the yearly licensing fees or you could be sued. I don't know how many businesses do actually do that, but I'd bet live music venues almost certainly do. – user37496 May 10 '17 at 11:39
  • And is this true even for an edition of a work that is otherwise well beyond its original copyright? For instance, if a performer performs a Mozart piece using a recent (hence copyrighted) edition, then licensing is important for the copyright of the edition but not the piece itself? – Michael Stachowsky May 10 '17 at 12:11
  • Far better people to ask would be P.R.S. themselves. Provided the sheet music is not a photocopy, but an original, any dues on it will surely have been paid on purchase. – Tim May 10 '17 at 12:14
  • Guys: consult a lawyer where you live. @Tim photocopying itself can be illegal if the copyright is valid, for one thing. – Carl Witthoft May 10 '17 at 12:25
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    That's what it's a grey area. – Joel Coehoorn May 10 '17 at 14:26

I can only speak for opera but in that case there is a thing called 'Grand Rights', which are payable if you perform an opera any of whose authors (i.e. including librettists) are still in copyright, i.e. in our case died less than 70 years ago. These are rather large and at the publisher's discretion, and typically involve a piece of the gate.

Contrary to the statements elsehwere here about the venue being liable, in our case the opera company was liable.

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  • In the U.S. there are organizations such as Samuel French that will provide rental copies of the score, parts, scripts and other materials as part of a package that includes the rights for a given number of performances. You must return all the materials. In some cases, like major Broadway shows, the piece is not "published" at all. You cannot buy the score or parts. Printed copies are made but are strictly controlled. There is no "first sale", so "first sale" does not apply. Compulsory license does apply once a recording has been make for sale. – Mark Lutton May 11 '17 at 1:42
  • For a work on the scale of an opera, most likely a single company is going to hire a venue for a significant amount of time (including the rehearsals, set-building, etc) so it makes sense for the legal arrangements to be directly with the company. For "general purpose" concert halls and other venues, normally the venue submits details of the music performed and pays the fees (which are averaged out over say a year, rather than assessed for each individual concert) and recovers the cost as part of the hiring charges for the hall, and/or the box office receipts from ticket sales. – user19146 May 11 '17 at 6:03

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