It’s important for musicians to understand their rights when it comes to collecting the royalties they’re owed. To make things clearer, here’s an helpful introduction to UK copyright law and royalty payments from Sarah Monument, author of UK Music Royalties – Made Easy!
How do UK music royalties work?
Music Copyright Law
To understand music royalties, it is important to first recognise the difference between a composer and a performer. In this current day, many musicians are both - a musician/electronic music producer would write music and also perform it onto a recording to be released, as would a singer or rapper with their written lyrics.
Each of those roles (composer or performer) triggers separate royalty income totally independent of each other, as detailed in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Consider those individuals who may just be one or the other – such as a ghostwriter (composer only), or a cover artist (performer only).
Sound recording copyright – performers and record labels
Performing artists are eligible for royalties, within the law of sound recording rights. When audio is recorded for release, the record label owns the copyright to this sound recording. Royalties are generated as a result, which are split 50% to the record label and 50% to the performers on the track. The 50% for performers is split across each artist involved, based on their level of contribution to the audio.
Copyright within sound recordings exist for 70 years after the recording was made, and unless ownership of this copyright has been transferred elsewhere within this time, then the recording becomes public domain.
Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL)
The Phonographic Performance Ltd society (PPL) collects royalties on behalf of performers and record labels. It is free to join PPL online at ppluk.com and it is the record labels responsibility to register each track which has been released, and to note the performers included on the recording. Performers on recorded audio have a responsibility to register with PPL and to check the database to ensure their recorded performances have been correctly recognised.
PPL pay royalties annually for UK income – while international royalty income and additional rights royalties are paid out by PPL at differing intervals throughout the year. Once registered, a performer and a record label can backdate royalties up to 6 years – as this is the length of time that PPL will hold onto unclaimed money.
International Standard Recording Codes (ISRCs) should be embedded within recorded audio by record labels, before a track is released. These ISRCs are internationally recognised and are the tracking codes which monitor where and when recorded audio has been broadcast around the world. Broadcasters report on ISRC activity and regularly send this information to PPL so that royalties can be calculated.
When registering a track within PPL, there are 3 different contribution categories, which the record label must allocate a performer against. This categorisation helps PPL calculate the share of royalty money that individual performers on the recording should receive after each broadcast. An explanation of each category can be found in UK Music Royalties – Made Easy!
This article is an extract from “UK Music Royalties – Made Easy!” by Sarah Monument. An essential read for musicians who want to maximise the money they make from their compositions and performances; and for record labels to understand sound recording copyright and mechanical licensing requirements.
This book gives a comprehensive overview of UK music royalties for artists and record labels, giving the reader a clear understanding of the basics of the Copyright Act 1988, licensing laws, royalty collection societies, performance and mechanical royalties, and music publishing.