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Copyright law and the mechanical license

An individual who creates a musical composition or lyrics automatically obtains a copyright over those works. This instills that individual with a number of rights, including the right to record and sell the composition, license it for use in commercials and film and television, and to record the music and sell those recordings.

As simple as that sounds, copyright law with regard to music compositions and lyrics is rather complicated, which is why individuals are usually better off if they can discus copyright law issues with an experienced attorney.

As an example of the complexities of the law in this area, let's briefly look at the mechanical license. As alluded to above, the creator of music is vested with the right to record and sell that music. However, once that music has been recorded and distributed, then anyone can reproduce and distribute nondramatic music.

An individual can even manipulate the music, to a certain extent, to conform with that individual's style. All of this is compulsory under the law, meaning the owner of the musical composition or lyric's copyright cannot prevent it.

However, individuals who utilize a compulsory license must pay the copyright owner royalties. The exact amount typically depends on the number of albums sold or the value of performances played. In addition, mechanical or compulsory licenses also have some restrictions on reproduction. For example, an individual cannot change the fundamental character of the work.

Also, the reproduction cannot obtain copyright protection as a derivative work. The reproductions also can't distributed for public use, such as for playing in background music system, jukeboxes, or broadcasting systems.

There are many intricacies to this area of the law. For example, there is a distinction between copyright protection of a musical composition and that of a sound recording of that musical composition. Also, even though compulsory licenses exist, those who are looking to reproduce a nondramatic musical work can negotiate the terms of the reproduction without actually acquiring a mechanical license. Those who are dealing with these issues and think they can benefit from legal guidance may want to reach out to an attorney who is familiar with this area of the law.

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