Ramon Ricker  

Royalties Are a Good Thing—Part 2: Performance Rights, Sync Rights, Patents and Trademarks

Ramon Ricker
January 14, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

This article is the second in a two-part series and takes up where part one left off.

- Ramon Ricker

Royalties Are a Good Thing—Part 2: Performance Rights, Sync Rights, Patents and Trademarks.

In 1897 an amendment to the copyright law provided that any person performing a dramatic or musical composition without the consent of the copyright owner would be liable for damages and potential criminal misdemeanor charges.i Prior to this, copyright protection was limited to printed music. This amendment was obviously well-received by composers and publishers, but without a mechanism to collect royalties it was practically unenforceable, since it is obviously impossible for a copyright holder to be everyplace his or her music is performed. But Europe provided a model.

Nearly 50 years prior to the 1897 U.S. amendment, a society was created in France, in 1851, to license and collect royalties on non-dramatic public performances of its works. In the U.S., Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) proved to be a catalyst. When, in 1910, he discovered that this country had no performance rights organizations, he began a conversation with his publisher that eventually resulted in the establishment of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)ii in 1914. Early members included Irving Berlin, Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern and John Philip Sousa, the most popular songwriters of the day.

In addition to ASCAP, two other performance rights organizations (PRO) are active in the United States. Recognizing that ASCAP had a virtual monopoly on performance rights, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)iii was established in 1940 by radio executives who decided to create their own PRO and therefore pay themselves performance royalties instead of ASCAP. A third player in the field is SESAC (Society for European Stage Authors and Composers).iv It is privately owned and is much smaller than the other two organizations, but as it says on its website it prides itself in its ability to create individual relationships with the composers and publishers it represents. Apparently its small size is attractive to some artists, since it is not without big names on it roster. Bob Dylan, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Garth Brooks, Eric Clapton and Luciano Pavarotti are all represented by them.

Individuals can only be a member of one PRO at a time and they can join as a writer (composer) and/or a publisher. Deciding which one to sign up with can be difficult, since the information they put forth is often not directly comparable to each other. Here is some information to get you started. But you’ll have to do your own research from this point forward.

ASCAP—ASCAP is member owned. It is the largest of the three. There is an application processing fee of $25, but there are no annual dues. To become an ASCAP writer member, you must have written or co-written a musical composition or a song that has been:

•commercially recorded (CD, record, tape, etc.); or,
•performed publicly in any venue licensable by ASCAP (club, live concert, symphonic concert or recital venue, college or university, etc.); or,

•performed in any audio visual or electronic medium (film, television, radio, Internet, cable, pay-per-view, etc.); or,

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