How much do I pay in mechanical royalties?

July 2, 2013

Dear Music Lawyer,

I have recorded a cover song that is 5 minutes, 43 seconds long. How much do I have to pay in mechanical royalties?


Dear Laura,

Under current U.S. copyright law, the statutory mechanical royalty rate is 9.1 cents per song per copy for musical compositions less than 5 minutes in length. For musical compositions greater than 5 minutes in length, the statutory mechanical rate is 1.75 cents per minute, with partial minutes being rounded up to the nearest whole minute.

Since your recording is greater than 5 minutes, you would be paying the 1.75 cents per minute rate. More specifically, you would be paying 6 (5 minutes, 43 seconds rounded up to the nearest whole minute) times 1.75 cents -- i.e., 10.5 cents per copy. So if you plan to manufacture 1,000 CDs with the cover song, you would owe $105 in mechanical royalties to the cover song's music publisher.

TIP: Mechanical royalty rates are negotiable. However, as a practical matter, many independent artists may find it simpler to pay the statutory rate.

Caveat: The above rates do not apply if you have made the first recording of a musical composition because, under current law, the copyright owner (usually a music publisher) gets to approve the first recording that is released to the public. As a result, with a so-called "first use," the music publisher may set a higher mechanical royalty rate or deny your request to release a recording of the song altogether.

—Amy E. Mitchell is maintained by experienced Austin music lawyer Amy E. Mitchell. Please feel free to ask any music law related questions. You will be notified by email when your question has been selected for response, and the response will be posted on this site.

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