Suppose you want to record someone else’s music for a record that you are producing. How do you do it? First you have to decide whether the song has been released. If it has not been released, you have to get permission from the writer or the publisher if there is one. If the song has been released then you have the right to do your own version of the song. Records means phono records, CD’s and tapes.
When you want to record your own version of a tune that has been released, you can usually get permission from The Harry Fox Agency. The Harry Fox Agency for years has issued mechanical licenses. Mechanical licenses are written permission to reproduce the song on records. Once a song has been released on a record, the songwriter or publisher if there is a separate publisher, must give you the right to reproduce the song. This right, if you will, is called a compulsory license.
Should you run into a snag and not be granted a license by The Harry Fox Agency or the songwriter (or publisher) once that tune has been released, you can get a compulsory license from The United States Copyright Office. Once released, the writer or publisher has no right to prevent you from recording your own version of the song on records. As a practical matter, almost no one refuses to issue a compulsory license. If they did, all you need to do is obtain the license by paying the then current fee that is about $.06 (six cents).
What if you wanted to make a CD but wanted to change the lyrics? Well, then a license from Harry Fox or from the United States Copyright Office will not cover such changes. Whenever you change the lyrics, you must get written permission directly from the writer or the publisher, unless the lyrics are a parody, complimenting or criticizing the song. So you are not confused, until the songwriter chooses a publisher, he or she is the publisher.
Keep in mind that no one other than the owners of the SR (Sound Recording) copyright have the right to give you permission to use the music off another record. That is sampling. It is illegal. Unless you get both permission of the owner of the SR, usually a record company and a mechanical license from Harry Fox, the writer or publisher as the case may be or a compulsory license. At the time of originally publishing this material Harry Fox was a primary agency for licenses and still is; there are others. Harry Fox is a provider of rights management and collection company and distributor of mechanical license fees on behalf of music publishers in the U.S.
Clearances for change of lyrics (unless the lyric change constitutes a parody of an existing song), or for use of music in film or video are best handled by an entertainment attorney. Your comments are always appreciated when you are “Under the Blog and Over the Top!”