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What is a Mechanical Copyright?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated May 16, 2024
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A mechanical copyright grants exclusive rights to the creator of a sound recording. A copyright registration is not required to obtain those rights. Once the sound recording is finalized, the creator can reproduce, license, or distribute it, unless it was a Work Made for Hire agreement. Record companies often own the sound recording outright because they enter into such agreements with producers and music engineers, and in exchange those producers and engineers receive mechanical copyright royalties. A creator of a sound recording can often copyright an mp3, CD, or other medium that plays the sound recording by submitting the appropriate copyright forms.

A copyright is different from a mechanical copyright. The songwriter can own a copyright to a song, specifically the lyrics, but the producer can own a mechanical copyright to the sound recording that’s released. When a sound recording is downloaded or copied and distributed, the creator of the sound recording is often entitled to compensation. If the creator did not transfer the copyrights to an individual or company, then he has to be contacted to obtain his permission to distribute the work. She has the option to grant a license for a flat fee, for royalty payments, or a combination of both. Some creators don’t have the business management know-how to handle incoming requests and may turn to an organization that represents artists to grant licenses on his behalf.

The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) and the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) are examples of organizations that grant licenses to users and distributors for copyright owners. They also act as accountants by providing accurate accounting of royalty payments and reports that are mailed to the creators on a periodic basis. Royalties are sent to the MCPS and then paid out to the creators. In addition to organizations like the MCPS, creators can hire business managers, entertainment law attorneys, and accountants to perform the same functions.

The owner of a mechanical copyright can grant a mechanical license to individuals or entities who wish to use it. Governments often prohibit creators from refusing to share the sound recording, but those same governments set mechanical royalty rates to ensure that the creator or owner of the work gets paid. For example, United States copyright laws state that owners of a mechanical copyright must be paid the greater of 9.1 cents or 1.75 cents per minute of playing time for works that were distributed between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2007. The rationale often offered by nations for compelling the sharing of mechanical copyrights is to encourage creativity and artistic innovation in the nation.

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