Royalties for song on TV show
January 31, 2017 6:16 PM   Subscribe

A song I co-wrote and performed on was used in an obscure TV show that played on North American cable in 2009-10. Would a license fee or royalties have been paid for use of the song? If so, where would that money have ended up?

The song was included on an album recorded by my amateur band circa 2000 and released by a company associated with the recording studio. The album says "All songs published by Some Publisher (SOCAN)" but there is no listing for it in SOCAN's public repertoire. (SOCAN is a performance rights organization, basically Canada's ASCAP.) The TV show was co-produced by Entertainment One; it aired on HDNet in the US in 2009, and Teletoon at Night in Canada in 2010.

I don't really care about the money; I'm just curious about the process. I kind of wonder if the record producer pocketed the royalties, or if the TV production company bothered with the licensing.
posted by Gerald Bostock to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
Best answer: IANAL, IANYL. I am also not a music licensing expert, though I know a few.

I have a diagram sitting on my desk right now that details how music rights are handled for film production in Canada, and it is not a simple chart. There are synch licensing, mechanical rights, communication rights and retransmission rights in play involving both the copyright in the song and the neighbouring rights for the performers. It is very unlikely that a TV show made it to air without some licence fees being paid or rights secured for the music being used. The production's errors and omissions insurer wouldn't allow it, nor would the broadcaster.

The Copyright Board of Canada provides a list of all the collective management organizations in Canada. You might also wish to search some of the other agency's catalogues for information, or reach out to them to ask for details on how to find out if you are owed money -- SOCAN, SODRAC, MROC, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:20 PM on January 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I used to do a bit of TV licensing in the US and from what I understand the Canadian market isn't much different. If you're both the recording artist and the songwriter, you should be receiving something from both sides for that use. SOCAN is the big performance rights organization in Canada, so you should receive something for the public performance rights through them. Even if the song isn't in their records, they likely can handle these rights if you're registered as writers. There would also need to be a synchronization license (usually in the US negotiated directly with the publisher of the composition) to cover the right to synch a song in time with a TV/movie/etc. So that's a second possible source of royalties. Those two cover the song, but then there is also the recording of the song used which is treated separately but usually worked out in conjunction with the publisher of the composition. But in any case there are likely at least three sources of licensing and royalties for the use.

Now, saying all that, we have no idea what sort of contract was signed, so it may cover all the rights needed and pay a flat fee for the whole thing. But there should be something at least covering both the recording and the composition side.
posted by downtohisturtles at 9:29 PM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: IANAL. Or Canadian.

"TV show" means synchronization rights/licensing and fees, which is a different category than "performing rights" (having your song played on the radio, streamed, or in a club, bar, or restaurant.) SOCAN apparently covers only performing rights (see here), so I'm pretty sure they wouldn't really have info about your situation. It looks like SODRAC is the main org for sync rights, might be worth checking with them.

But this page on licensing from Music Canada suggests that sync fees are mostly negotiated with the individual rights holders, which would be some combo of the publisher(s) and record label. And I can't find anything about any legally-mandated minimums for sync fees, so for all I know the sync fee could've been a six-pack of beer.

IOW, somewhere in the process the band signed some sort of contracts with 'Some Publisher' and 'Recording Studio Record Label', and somewhere in those contracts would've been mention of how the band & writers get paid for sync fees. Then however the TV producers discovered your music, they paid a fee (I doubt they would've skipped the licensing entirely, not least because "band no-one's heard of on obscure TV show" almost certainly = "sync fee" of the six-pack I mentioned above) to (most likely) the label and the publisher, and theoretically you should've gotten something as both co-writer and performer. There probably wasn't much money, so if you ever got any pay-outs from the label it might've been combined with other royalties in a single check - you would've had to have both gotten and noticed some kind of sheet delineating what the check was for to notice if you got paid for the sync fees. Or the contracts signed had some clause in it that you all wouldn't get any sync fees, or not until & unless they reached a certain dollar amount, or some other shady business that they figured a young band would never notice. Or the money just got pocketed before it ever reached the band.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:40 PM on January 31, 2017

Best answer: SOCAN apparently covers only performing rights (see here), so I'm pretty sure they wouldn't really have info about your situation

On the other hand, they do note that performance rights includes broadcast on television, and in the US, the rights are intertwined: although the sync itself (that is, the right the play the music alongside picture) is separate, once it's broadcast, that's a performance, and the US PROs will pay out (and so will SOCAN; I have received royalties from Canadian broadcasts).

Basically, two things needed to be true here: first, that the network that aired the program paid a license fee to whichever US PRO you affiliated with when you joined SOCAN; second, that the production company filed a cue sheet detailing the music used on the program. If both of these things happened, and you had been affiliated with SOCAN, and the work had been registered, you would have received a (likely very, very small) royalty.

Of course it's all moot since we're seven years out, but that's how it ought to have worked.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:56 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work for a collection society but not in Canada. I have worked for both a songwriter and performer society so I know how they operate. Most societies will hold that money for you, going back a few years. You will have to enquire with both the Canadian songwriters society (SOCAN) and the performers' society (MROC) regarding how many years they hold money for. If you're lucky, you will have some money waiting for you in both, so join both societies. TV pays a shitload too, so I wouldn't discount it.

With performer societies, they will usually have a 'dummy' account set up in your name if they found you were on the recording via their own research. They may well have been 'looking' for you. If they don't have a dummy account then you will need proof that you were on the recording. You should always register your recordings with societies so you don't have to think about this. Did you 'sell' your song to that company btw? Because that might change everything. Be sure that you haven't sold your rights.

I just looked up my reference sheet from work for the Canadian societies. Your Rightsholder and Performer societies are separate unlike ours so i'm not sure what evidence you'll be asked for. Info:

MROC - Performer society (I would contact them first)
Artisti - Performer society
ACTRA PRS - Performer society
Connect ML - Rightsholder society

The company who has probably earned money from this will be a member of Connect and likely considered the Rightsholder unless they have an agreement with another company.

Hope this helps.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:15 AM on February 1, 2017

Response by poster: Did you 'sell' your song to that company btw? Because that might change everything. Be sure that you haven't sold your rights.

That's a good question. I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have sold the rights outright. It's more likely we contracted with the studio to act as publisher and handle licensing (possibly including registering us with SOCAN et al.) in return for a cut. But it was a long time ago and I'm not sure. Sounds like I should try to track down a copy of our contract with the studio, in addition to getting in touch with SOCAN and other rights orgs.

Thank you all for this information and advice!
posted by Gerald Bostock at 12:58 PM on February 1, 2017

Best answer: If you need somebody to answer some legal questions about the situation, there is some Ontario-based free advice for artists, including composers and musicians available here.
posted by sardonyx at 1:29 PM on February 1, 2017

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