Mechanical License – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Music Business Glossary

What is a Mechanical License?

A mechanical license is a legal agreement that grants permission to reproduce and distribute copyrighted musical compositions in the form of physical or digital recordings. This license is required when an artist or record label wants to cover a song that they did not write themselves. The term “mechanical” refers to the mechanical reproduction of music, such as CDs, vinyl records, and digital downloads.

How to Obtain a Mechanical License

To obtain a mechanical license, the artist or record label must contact the copyright owner of the musical composition. This can be the songwriter, music publisher, or a licensing agency. The copyright owner has the right to grant or deny permission for the reproduction and distribution of their work. Once permission is granted, a mechanical license agreement is signed, outlining the terms and conditions of use.

Limitations of a Mechanical License

There are limitations to what can be done with a mechanical license. For example, the license only covers the reproduction and distribution of the musical composition, not the recording itself. If an artist wants to use a specific recording of a song, they must obtain a separate master use license from the owner of the sound recording. Additionally, the mechanical license is typically limited to a specific number of copies or downloads, and may have restrictions on how the music can be used or distributed.

Royalties and Payments for Mechanical Licenses

Royalties are payments made to the copyright owner for the use of their musical composition. The amount of royalties paid for a mechanical license is typically based on a per-unit basis, such as a set amount per CD sold or per digital download. The rates for mechanical licenses are set by the Copyright Royalty Board in the United States, and may vary depending on the format of the reproduction and the length of the composition.

Importance of Mechanical Licenses in the Music Industry

Mechanical licenses play a crucial role in the music industry by ensuring that copyright owners are compensated for the use of their work. Without these licenses, artists would not be able to legally cover or reproduce existing songs, leading to potential copyright infringement lawsuits. Additionally, mechanical licenses provide a source of income for songwriters and music publishers, allowing them to continue creating new music.

Differences Between Mechanical Licenses and Performance Rights

While mechanical licenses cover the reproduction and distribution of musical compositions, performance rights licenses cover the public performance of music. Performance rights licenses are required for live performances, radio broadcasts, streaming services, and other public uses of music. These licenses are typically obtained through performance rights organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. It is important for artists and record labels to understand the differences between mechanical licenses and performance rights licenses in order to ensure they have the necessary permissions for all uses of copyrighted music.