Performing Rights Organizations, Royalty Free Music and You

Every songwriter, composer, and publisher has exclusive rights to their own work whether they have registered it with the copyright office or not. Every time their music will be used by another person, establishment, or production company, these authors are entitled to royalties to be paid by those who will use their work. However, it may be a daunting task for each composer or publisher to deal with every person or company who wants to “borrow” their music for a specific purpose. This is the reason why performing rights organizations were formed.

Duties of the Performing Rights Organizations
Performing Rights Organizations, or PROs, are groups that have composers and music publishers as their members. These Performing Rights Organizations are the ones responsible for tracking and collecting performing rights royalties for the use of their members’ music. Performing Rights Organizations collect only non-dramatic performance rights, though. This means that using the music for theatrical purposes will need to be negotiated directly with the publisher or author of the music to be used. Examples of non-dramatic performances are radio and TV broadcasts, films, commercials, and use of music in establishments.

Performing Rights Organizations monitor radio broadcasts for the use of their members’ music. For TV and films, PROs track the use of music through cue sheets. Producers fill out the cue sheets and submit them to the Performing Rights Organization with a member who owns the copyright of the music listed in the sheet. If the sheet contains music owned by members from different Performing Rights Organizations, the cue sheet needs to be submitted to each Performing Rights Organization.

PROs Are Serious About Their Getting Their Royalties…
Performing Rights Organizations are quite strict in implementing their policies. Those who choose to ignore their policies, much more their presence, may be facing more problems in the future. Performing Rights Organizations are said to have sent lawyers at times to demand payment for the royalties from entities who choose not to pay the fees for using the music still under copyright. Some even claimed that Performing Rights Organizations have sent US Marshals to stores and took money from their registers as payment for the use of their members’ music.

Licensing Process
Music still with exclusive rights owned by the composer or publisher requires performing rights royalties every time they will be used in public. However, since it can be very tedious for a user to acquire the rights for each song to be used, the performing rights organizations made a fee structure that would make getting a license easy for the broadcasters or establishments who will use the music.

Performing Rights Organizations have established that users only need to pay an annual license fee for the public use of the songs owned by their members. The annual fee to be paid depends on different factors. For example, the annual fee to be paid by an establishment playing music depends on the size of the establishment, the number of speakers used to play the music and whether pre-recorded music will be used or a live performance will be done. Broadcasting music over radio or TV will require much higher annual license fees than those paid by stores. Generally, Performing Rights Organizations base the annual fee on the extent of public reach of the music to be played or, in other words, the number of people who will hear the music.

The shows, commercials and segments seen on TV and heard on the radio always have producers. These producers are the ones choosing the music to be used in these performances. However, they are not the ones broadcasting them or showing them in public. Hence, broadcasters are the ones responsible for paying the annual license fees to the Performing Rights Organizations for broadcasting the shows and commercials with music owned by the Performing Rights Organizations’ members.

As an overview of the annual license fee charged by Performing Rights Organizations, let us use the example of a retail store playing some music from CDs through one speaker. If the store area is about 2,000 square feet and the songs in the CD are owned by members of the 3 Performing Rights Organizations in the US (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC), the store owner needs to pay a total of about $524 as annual license fees ($190 to ASCAP; $182 to BMI; and $152 to SESAC). The bigger the store, the more it pays to the Performing Rights Organizations. If live music is played instead of pre-recorded songs in a CD, a certain amount is added per live performance.

Royalty-Free Music and Performing Rights Organizations
Royalty-free music is getting popular these days. Most people believe that they would be saving a lot more money by buying royalty-free music than the traditional ones. This may be true. However, it should also be known to the public that not all royalty-free music is also free from paying performing rights. It can really sound complicated and some may think that it doesn’t make sense, but it is true.

Composers and publishers friendly enough to the users offer their works royalty-free. This means that those who want to use their music for any purpose need only to pay a one-time fee, which already allows unlimited use of the music by the buyer. However, if the music will be used in a public performance, it still needs to be reported to the Performing Rights Organizations and a license from them is still required.

The owners of the copyright claims their music to be royalty-free because it is indeed so. No recurring royalties will be asked from the buyer with each use of the music. If it will be used in public, it is in the assumption of the composer or publisher that the buyer already has license acquired from the Performing Rights Organizations and is just adding more music to his list. The buyer, therefore, needs to pay the one-time fee for the royalty-free music and the annual license fee to the Performing Rights Organizations in order to use the music in a public performance. The composer, on the other hand, gets the one-time fee for his royalty-free music and a portion of the license fee paid to the Performing Rights Organizations for the public use of the music. In essence, the buyer still needs to shell out a lot of money despite the fact that he is buying a royalty-free music.

The good news is there are some companies and stores offering royalty-free music which do not require licenses from Performing Rights Organizations to be played in public. How is this so? The composers or publishers who own the royalty-free music offered in these companies are not members of any of the Performing Rights Organizations; therefore, there is no need to report their music to any of these organizations. A couple of good examples of royalty-free music sites that do not require its users to report the use of music to any Performing Rights Organization is Partners In Rhyme and

Performing Rights Organizations Worldwide
Most countries have their own performing rights organizations that are responsible for collecting license fees for the use of their members’ music. Most composers and publishers from the US are members of the 3 Performing Rights Organizations in the US, namely the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI); and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC). These musicians in the US are also represented by the Performing Rights Organizations in different countries. Below is a list of countries, other than the US, that also have their own performing rights organizations:



Czech Republic
Hong Kong
New Zealand

Performing Rights Organization

Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)
Autoren, Komponisten, und Musikverleger (AKM)
Belgian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers (SABAM)
União Brasileira de Compositores (UBC), Escritório Central de Arrecadação e Distribuição (ECAD)
Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN)
Sociedad Chilena del Derecho de Autor (SCD)
La Sociedad de Autores Y Compositores de Colombia (SAYCO)
Hrvatsko Dru_tvo Skladatelja (HDS)
Ochrann_ Svaz Autorsk_ (OSA)
Eesti Autorite Ühing (EAÜ)
TEOSTO, La Sacem
Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs (GEMA)
Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong (CASH)
India Performing Rights Society (IPRS)
Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO)
Composers, Authors and Publishers Society of Israel (ACUM)
Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori (SIAE)
Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC)
Lietuvos autori_ teisi_ gynimo asociacijos agentüra (LATGA-A)
Music Authors’ Copyright Protection (MACP)
Sociedad de Autores y Compositores de Musica (SACM)
Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)
Sociedade Portuguesa de Autores (SPA)

These performing rights organizations collect license fees in behalf of the composers, publishers, and authors from their own country as well as those from other countries who are also their members. Each of them has its own policies and fee structure. For more information on these Performing Rights Organizations from other countries, visit their respective websites.