Why Can’t Songwriters Audit? A Brief Guide to Statutory Audits Under the U.S. Copyright Act

Essential reading for all songwriters and musicians.

MUSIC • TECHNOLOGY • POLICY

BLANCHE

Whoever you are…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

From A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams

Songwriters earn a sizable percentage of their ever decreasing income from mechanical royalties.  Until the last few years, mechanical royalties were almost always licensed under direct licenses to record companies that incorporated by reference the statutory license provisions of Section 115 of the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act and the corresponding regulations.  Section 115 is a direct–and almost word for word–descendant of Section 1(e) of the 1909 U.S. Copyright Act.

Why so little change in nearly 70 years?  Until 2000 or so, nobody used statutory licenses except in the rarest of circumstances.  Instead, the statutory license became something like the Uniform Partnership Act or the Uniform Commercial Code.  It could be used for reference but was often–almost always–modified in a direct license.

The main point that was added in these…

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