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Alex Reese
Alex Reese, Lawyer
Category: Intellectual Property Law
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Experience:  Experienced in intellectual property law
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How do I find out who owns a song copyright and whether I can

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How do I find out who owns a song copyright and whether I can print/sell a derivative work such as an arrangement of that song?

Yes, to obtain permission look to the following resources.


If you want to record and distribute a musical composition that has already been recorded by someone else, or synchronize music with visual images, then check with The Harry Fox Agency, Inc.


Online performances are quite complicated. They involve 3 rights rather than just one: (i) the performance right in the musical composition (see ASCAP, BMI and SESAC above), (ii) the performance right in the sound recording and (iii) the right to duplicate the musical composition (see Harry Fox Agency, above). Each of these rights must be licensed from a separate entity.


The owner of the sound recording is usually the record label. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) represents most major labels and has a good explanation of the statutory license available to certain Webcasters. There is also a nonprofit educational radio station exemption that covers Webcasts of licensed radio broadcasts. If the statutory license or the nonprofit educational radio station exemption do not apply, you will have to get permission from each record label whose recordings you wish to Webcast.


Music Research Consultants' web page contains links to publishers, record labels, music rights agencies, and more. This is a good place to gather contact information. If you know the name of an artist, album, song or label, the All-Music Guide allows you to search for more information and often links directly to the source.


Whenever it is unclear who the owner is, or if the owner is a legal entity of some kind (a business or organization), you should be sure that the person giving you permission is authorized to do so. For example, if you are negotiating with an author, question her about whether she retained copyright or whether she assigned it to her publisher. Sometimes people are unsure. If you are preparing a commercial product, you will need absolute assurances of authority to grant permission because your publisher will expect those assurances from you.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
I just want to publish, not perform or record. I read that there is a "technical copyright" that covers musical publishing. Can you elaborate on how to find out who owns the publishing rights versus the performance rights?

To arrange music you must seek "Permission to Arrange" from the company or individual that holds the "print rights" to the music. The "print rights" holder may or may not be the same as the "copyright owner." The copyright owner sometimes publishes its own music or it may grant "print rights" to a music publisher to arrange their music for band. Copyright owners often empower the music publisher with the right to grant or deny requests for permission to arrange. You will seek permission from either the copyright owner or the music publisher, depending on their contract. The Composition and Publisher Databases are designed to assist in finding the "print rights" holder.

Permission to Arrange is usually granted to specific arrangers, for specific performances, by specific bands, and usually for a given year. Furthermore, contracts between copyright holders and music publishers can change from year to year. A license granted in the past does not guarantee that it will automatically be granted this year. Your approved arrangement is generally the property of the original copyright owner not the property of the band or the arranger. You may not loan or sell your arrangement to another band without first obtaining permission from the "print rights" holder. Additionally, you may not purchase an arrangement from another band or arranger without first acquiring permission from the copyright owner or music publisher. In addition, some companies may require that you forward scores and/or parts as a part of your contract.


The following is a good explanation of mechanical licenses:


Here is some additional info for the music industry & copyrights:


ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) is the primary source for licensing of music. Go to the section on licensing for information on licensing radio, television, and Internet materials as well as general licensing.

BMG owns Arista Records, RCA, and BMG Music Publishing..

DiMA (Digital Media Association) represents webcasters, technology companies, and online music and video retailers.

EMG Music Clearance represents numerous songwriters and will negotiate licensing.

EMI holds the rights for EMI Music Publishing and EMI Recorded Music. Searchable database of their music labels.

Harry Fox Agency is a clearinghouse to license musical works. You can search the songfile of the National Music Publishers' Assocation.

Parker Music Group: Music Clearance will obtain clearances for songs or master recordings.

Recording Industry Association of America has a good discussion of Web Licensing.

Sesac represents songwriters and publishers.

Signature Sound is another clearinghouse that will obtain music licenses.

SONY owns Columbia Records.

Time Warner owns HBO, CNN, Warner Brothers, Warner Music, Turner Broadcasting, and Time.

Alex Reese and 2 other Intellectual Property Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Alex, I Accepted your answer and gave you a bonus. Can I ask one more clarifying question? My music teacher has been making her own arrangements for her own teaching purposes for years. She has a catalog of approximately 1000 songs. I was hoping that she might be able to sell some of her arrangements as a means to fund her retirement (she is 80 years old at present). It sounds like even if she got permission from the publisher to arrange a particular song, she could not really sell it herself via the internet or any other means, because the arrangements would still be the property of the owner of the publishing rights. Is my interpretation correct, or is there an avenue whereby she could be able to turn her work into a format that she could profit from?

Your understanding is right, she would need permission from the copyright holder to sell/distribute her arrangements (which may be considered derivative works) but thats not to say that they wont agree to it and that she could negotiate an deal whereby both parties would benefit from the sales. After all, as long as they don't see the arrangements as detrimental/dilutive to the artist's reputation etc, then its free money for them in the form of royalties. So although its upto them, it will mainly be a matter of negotiation and business matters. best of luck!

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Alex thank-you for your help on my follow-up question. I intended that the bonus was payment for the follow-up--I hope you understand and agree.

I may have some other questions on Intellectual Property Law. If I do another just answer question can I specify you as the expert?
Yes, thanks. You can "request" a specific expert when submitting your question (and if you don't know how to do that then you can just put it in the title of your question e.g. "This quetion is for expert Alex Reese..."

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