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Thread: Obtaining Written Permission of Old Songs

  1. #1

    Default Obtaining Written Permission of Old Songs

    I figure this would be a great place to ask. :-) Over the past few weeks, I've been compelled to work on an instrumental trumpet album. Many of the songs I've chosen are hymns old enough to be public domain, but some have been written recent enough to have a CCLI number. For those songs that have a CCLI number, do I need to obtain "expressed written consent" to record (and possibly sell) an arrangement of these songs? If so, how do I go about it? Insight please?
    Melanie Siewert, Christ's Servant
    BLOG: http://www.worshipvanguard.blogspot.com

  2. #2
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    To create a recording of a copyrighted composition, you need a mechanical licence. It doesn't matter if you sell them, give them away or stick them in a closet. You can get it directly from the publisher or from a clearing house like Music Services. Usually there is a minimum number of licences you have to purchase, usually 200.

    You can also do a "compulsory" mechanical license, which is basically record now, pay later. But that is more trouble than it is worth, usually.

  3. #3

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    So how exactly would this work? I went to HFA Songfile, and the songs I thought were under public domain showed up in their database.

    * How do I know who wrote the original work?
    * How do I find out if the song is actually public domain instead of copyrighted?
    * How much extra cost are we talking here? Processing fees? Royalty fees?
    * How much should I expect to pay for these licenses?
    * Is all this worth the money?
    Melanie Siewert, Christ's Servant
    BLOG: http://www.worshipvanguard.blogspot.com

  4. #4
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    It doesn't strictly matter who wrote it. The publisher generally holds the rights, and they pay the artist. Once you identify the publisher, it's up to them how they handle licence administration. Each one is different. If they have a CCLI number, then SongSelect can tell you who the publisher is.

    The statutory rate for mechanical rights is 9.1 cents per copy, per song. (the same is true for downloadable copies) This applies to every copy you make, not sell. So if you license and press 100 copies, you owe $9.10.

    Songs can still be considered under copyright for up to 95 years after their publication, or life of the author plus 70 years, whichever is earlier. And it can get dicey with older hymns. Suppose someone writes a hymn in 1800. In 1930, someone else records the hymn with a minor change, and that is the version that becomes "known," because it is the first recorded version. The song could possibly be protected until 2025 - 225 years after it was written!

    Anyway, Songfile should have the publisher info, and you start there.

    Most reputable disc manufacturers will not accept an order of non-original material unless you either demonstrate you have the proper licenses or sign an affidavit to that effect.

    I wrote a series on this back when we were cutting our album and I had to go through it.

  5. #5

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    Curiously, who paid for the licensing?

    Since I'm on my own here, either I have to find a sponsor or foot the bill myself. Oh the joys of the music business. :-)

    Blessings!
    Melanie Siewert, Christ's Servant
    BLOG: http://www.worshipvanguard.blogspot.com

  6. #6
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    Melanie,

    the info Mikey gave you is spot on--I have people ask me all the time to record various songs and so far I have shied away from an "arrangement" or "cover" album simply because of the licensing headache. There are public domain melodies out there. The little violin cd I put together has several hymn arrangements--all but one are public domain. For "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" I had to contact Hope Publishing, fill out a written licensing contract and pay them $91.00 for my run of 1000 cds. On the other hand I've also had one of my originals recorded by another artist--the song placed through an artist development company in Nashville--and I never saw a cent! So, rules get broken all the time, but I think we should still observe due diligence.

  7. #7

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    Thanks, Trent! I found out that "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" is a public domain melody, which is one of my favorites oldies. I'm not sure any songs I know that are public domain, but the intention of the album is to record those old songs that had an impact on my life over the years. BTW, I did not know that about Great is Thy Faithfulness. I read somewhere it was public domain, so I uploaded an arrangement to Kompoz looking for contributors. I better remove it before I get into any trouble. :-)

    That being said, Fred hooked me up with Copyright Solver, and they're working with me on some of the licensing nuances. At this time, I'm simply counting my quarters, so to speak. If I don't have the money to personally pay for the licensing, I'll have to hold off until that time comes. I just sent them a list of songs I'm interested in doing, and they will send me quote. In the meantime, I'm actually having fun working with different arrangements in my spare time. I can't remember having this much fun playing my trumpet before. :-)
    Melanie Siewert, Christ's Servant
    BLOG: http://www.worshipvanguard.blogspot.com

  8. #8
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    Not to bite the hand that feeds the forum, but be careful of using services, especially if you are "counting quarters" as you put it. Some of them (and I'm not saying CS does this) charge large fees for things that can easily be done one evening sitting in front of the computer. (I've never used CS, so I don't know what their fees are. ) I know that when I used Music Services, there was no fee on top of the royalty.

  9. #9

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    Are you saying I only have to pay royalties if I do the legwork myself?

    CS told me that licensing is $20 per license (of songs less than 5 minutes) plus royalties. Is that too steep?
    Melanie Siewert, Christ's Servant
    BLOG: http://www.worshipvanguard.blogspot.com

  10. #10
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    Twenty bucks plus royalties? That's pretty steep. You should be able to pay just the royalties, or maybe a fee like $5 if you really are opposed to hard work like filling out a web form.

    What songs are you looking at?

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