Rights issues recording contemporary classical piano music
May 9, 2012 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I’m a pianist living in Canada and I’m interested in recording (and making commercially available) solo classical piano music by living Canadian composers – music that is still under copyright. What are the legal requirements and, if applicable, industry norms to acquire the rights to record this music?

I have already recorded a small number such works and I’m prepared to begin the process of releasing these through iTunes. I own the scores to all the works, all of which are published and bear active copyrights still in effect today.

I’ve seen these two threads posted previously which deal with similar issues.

Legality of distributing free cover songs
Avoiding a chirpy 8-bit lawsuit

However, my work differs in that I'm not imitating another performance/recording of the work and my recordings will be made available for sale.

My own initial research led me to conclude that I need to acquire a Mechanical License from the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) giving me the right to record and offer for commercial sale a specified number of copies of my recordings. I searched the CMRRA database and the works I wish to release are listed.

But, I was also directed to the Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) by another colleague. Do I require an additional license from SOCAN or is a Mechanical License from CMRRA sufficient?

The other part of my question relates to whether anyone is aware of industry norms in this area. Contemporary classical solo piano music is a small niche market and will likely move in small volumes (well below the minimum quantity of 500 copies required by the CMRRA). Are private profit-sharing arrangements ever negotiated with composers directly and at what rates?
posted by bkpiano to Media & Arts (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Quickie non-Canadian 2 cents: CMRRA Mechanical license covers Mechanical Royalties i.e. royalties from sales of recordings, SOCAN covers Performing Royalties i.e. royalties due the composer & publisher if the song is performed live or your recording is played on the radio.

US equivalents to SOCAN would be ASCAP & BMI, & those fees are paid by the performing venues & radio stations, not the individual/band performing the song.

The US Congress sets minimum royalty rates - in the non-classical world I know higher rates are definitely negotiated, but not lower rates. My guess is that Canadian law is probably pretty similar.

Also note the "publisher" is a very important figure in copyright & royalty laws, not just the songwriter/composer. This is actually the "company" you will be dealing with. There might be more than one publisher (who might not all be affiliated with CMRRA), the publisher might be a partnership between the composer & somebody else, it might just be the composer doing business under a "company" name.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:56 AM on May 9, 2012

So you probably don't have to pay any fees to SOCAN for rights to record the songs, but you will want to join SOCAN as a "music creator" so you can receive royalties due you if your recordings get any airplay.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:59 AM on May 9, 2012

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