Mechanical Situation for US Songwriter

5. Januar 2009 | Abgelegt unter Komponisten (Autoren), Labels, Publishing

This page is aimed at songwriters, mainly American songwriters who are often the losers in the world of record mechanicals.

So what are mechanicals? If we imagine that we are going to make musical boxes, and use ‘Blue suede shoes’ as the music, then it’s obvious that someone should be paid for the copyright. In this instance, it would be Carl Perkins (because he wrote it), probably via his publisher. Now, a CD is, in law, a music box when it is being played on your CD player, in just the same way that a vinyl record on a phonograph is a music box, or even a piano roll on a pianola. As we move into the digital era, mechanicals and (performance money) are even generated by mp3 downloads. So how is this money generated and administered?

Here in Germany and Europe, it’s administered via the local mechanicals collection society, and the record company by law has to take out a licence from the national body when they press (or re-press) a record, or when they sell an MP3 on the internet. The record company has to fill out an application form, and list all of the songtitles, the writers and the copyright owners of the songs (usually the publishers). Download websites are required to make returns of this information to those bodies. Here in the Germany, it’s the GEMA and in France it’s SDRM, in the U.K MCPS, etc.

For our US readers, please remember that this money is nothing to do with BMI or ASCAP, Lady counting Dollars and even if you’re a publisher member, you may still have to deal with Harry Fox Agency or make a deal with the label. Your publishing company will not be recognised outside of the USA, unless it is a member of the mechanicals organisation of the country where the record is made.

In Western Europe there is an agreed mechanical rate, sometimes known as the ‘customary mechanical rate’, and it is 9,009 % of the companies’ dealer price, or a similar percentage of the download price. How do you get this money? Here’s the snag. If your song is not registered with the mechanicals society, then you get nothing. In Germany, the songs are classified as ‘copyright control’ (a misnomer if there ever was one!), and the record company does not have to pay the 9,009 % for CDs. This doesn’t just apply to ‘unknowns’. We’ve seen this on songs by the likes of Chris Isaak and Iris Dement (and LOTS more!). Country by country in Western Europe the system has subtle changes, but basically the record label pays, even if the songs are unregistered, and the money that is unclaimed after a period of time is lost. This is what happens in Germany for download mechanicals. So what’s to be done?

Obviously, you’ve got to get your songs on the database of the mechanicals society in question. However, only a member of that society can register it (or another mechanicals collection society from another country that is recognised). This is the job of your music publisher, who obviously wants a split. Even so, it’s still worth your while to do something about this. It would be nice to think that you could always deal with record labels who are not involved with dubious releases and bootlegs, but regrettably on the shop dealer scene, this ain’t always so…

If you find yourself in this position, contact us. Obviously if a record has been released and ‘copyright control’ is written on the label, we can go back over the situation and STILL get your money if it’s within the statute of limitations (three years). Because we’re a member of GEMA and also MCPS by our publishing partner we can collect from any other mechanicals society in the civilised world. All of this need have no bearing on any arrangements that you might (or might not) have made for performing rights. In any event, we can handle that, too, being a member of the German GVL. We’ll be looking at all of your releases, listening to the radio, reading fanzine record reviews and chasing up all those small pressing runs in other countries because, since we’re involved in this music, we know what’s goin’ on in it.

MCDP International Publishing, Member of GEMA Germany

Dipl.-Ing. Stefan Braun, gema_delegierter [at] stefanbraun [punkt] eu

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