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[Blog] Breaking Into The Music Industry: Performance Rights Organizations

The owner of a copyright in a protected musical composition may use the work as (s)he wishes; conversely, (s)he may prevent others from using that work without authorization. Whenever a musical work (“song”) is being performed for commercial purposes, that owner should almost always expect to receive a royalty.

Making individual efforts to collect royalties, however, require hours of investigation and paperwork – tracking how many times the song has been played, determining whether it was performed on TV, in a film, on the radio or Internet, or calculating which percentage of the royalty goes to which owner (if the song has co-composers). This is where it makes sense to become a member of a Performance Rights Organization (“PRO”). The purpose of these organizations is to track the “public performance” of musical compositions (anything from elevator-music to radio play to live band concerts), collect license fees for copyright owners who are PRO members, and distribute royalties to their members.

The owner of a copyright in a protected musical composition may use the work as (s)he wishes; conversely, (s)he may prevent others from using that work without authorization. Whenever a musical work (“song”) is being performed for commercial purposes, that owner should almost always expect to receive a royalty.

Making individual efforts to collect royalties, however, require hours of investigation and paperwork – tracking how many times the song has been played, determining whether it was performed on TV, in a film, on the radio or Internet, or calculating which percentage of the royalty goes to which owner (if the song has co-composers). This is where it makes sense to become a member of a Performance Rights Organization (“PRO”). The purpose of these organizations is to track the “public performance” of musical compositions (anything from elevator-music to radio play to live band concerts), collect license fees for copyright owners who are PRO members, and distribute royalties to their members.

There are three (3) PROs in the United States: (1) the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) ($50 to join as a composer or publisher); (2) Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) (free to join for a composer but $150 to $250 for publishers); and (3)the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) (free to join but selective when admitting new members).

The composer’s or publisher’s choice among the three PROs will depend largely on the type of benefits desired. If one is seeking a PRO that will assist members with insurance, music-making tools, or financial management, ASCAP seems ideal. If one seeks an organization that will help develop careers via showcases, music festivals, and conferences, BMI seems best. If one prefers an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with his/her PRO representative, SESAC seems most strategic.

Ultimately, if you are a songwriter/composer/publisher looking to generate money from your catalogue, you must consider and choose the PRO best for you.

ChaseLawyers would be happy to provide assistance on these matters. We can be reached in Miami at 305-373-7665; in New York City at 212-601-2762; and on the web at www.ChaseLawyers.com. We appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you.

Barry Chase, Greg Bloom, and Michael Epstein.

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