Music copyright and broadcasting

Being a musician. It’s not a proper job, obviously.  It’s something you do for fun isn’t it?  But, amazingly, musicians actually expect to get paid when their music is broadcast on TV or radio.  Here’s how it works, roughly speaking, for a commercially released song.

You compose a piece of music, a bunch of musicians record it, a record label releases it so TV and radio stations will broadcast it.  That short, innocuous sentence is laden with legal rights.  And, frankly, mind boggling complexity.

The people  who composed the music own the copyright in the notes and lyrics.  They usually share that copyright with a publisher (who rarely actually publishes anything like sheet music). The publisher earns his money by making sure the music gets broadcast on tv and radio and does the stuff related to that.  Hopefully.

The musicians who play the music own rights as performers.

The record label who paid the studio to record it owns rights in the recording.  Often the music publisher and the record label are different parts of the same music company.

In order to keep it simple (ha ha) all these people expecting dosh when music is broadcast use 2 main companies to do the admin – PRS (Performing Rights Society) and PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited).

So, show me the money.  If a broadcaster had to negotiate payments with everyone separately the world would spontaneously combust, so they do the deal with the 2 companies that represent all those music types – PRS and PPL.  A broadcaster pays for a blanket licence from PRS and PPL, in other words an agreed annual fee based on all sorts of things, like how many people they broadcast to and how many hours of music they play.

PRS represents composers and publishers.  PPL represents performers and record labels.  That’s (more or less) it.  Can you improve on this, whilst keeping it succinct?  Tell me!

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4 responses to “Music copyright and broadcasting

  1. Nice summary!

    Would add that the “recording” rights are legally owned by the person(s) who caused the report to be made – this is right may be split between various people including the “producer” (who may well be separate from the record company and the artist). Less commonly, engineers and session players may make a claim on recording rights

    This is a fun read: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/musicians-benefit-from-extended-copyright-term-for-sound-recordings

    • Thanks DK. He who knows how money is shuffled around in any business is the one that makes the money! It’s a subject I should really know more about. I’m doing a community reporter thing for BBC Radio Manchester in a couple of weeks (though not on music) and the question came up in a training event.

  2. reads great Pete – wondered if you could elaborate on mechanicals?traditionally was just for physical products dvd/cds but now covers pay per view and can be quite a significant income stream from what I gather, but a lot of publishers now just take 100% of this by default as most composers don’t realise its worth.

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