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?
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