Monday, December 23, 2013

Compulsory License for Beck's "Song Reader" Album?

Dear Rich: Last year Beck Hansen released his 'album' Song Reader as sheet music and invited artists to record and share their versions (mostly via SoundCloud), but he did not sell a recorded album. I made a set of these songs and would like to distribute my 'versions' derived from his chords and lyrics, on iTunes. I don't understand what license I need, who to pay, or how to get it. The songs don't show up at Harry Fox, and I'm sure Limelight will take my money but I don't think that is the right path either. The sheet music has what looks like bogus publishing companies listed, but there is a Beck Hansen credit on each one. I just want to do the right thing. One of my SoundCloud followers worked on Song Reader and suggested I get in touch with Kobalt, they're 'contact us' folks sent me the generic mechanical form. I feel like this is different.  As we explained in a previous post, when an artist releases an audio recording, copyright law allows anyone else to thereafter release "cover" versions of that song without asking for permission, provided that a compulsory mechanical license fee is paid and certain rules are followed. According to Section 115, the compulsory license kicks in "When phonorecords of a nondramatic musical work have been distributed to the public in the United States under the authority of the copyright owner ..." Beck never released a sound recording (phonorecord) of the Song Reader and the compulsory license would not have been triggered by the release of the book.  
However ...  Keep in mind that the real key to a compulsory license is the phrase "under the authority of the copyright owner." If Beck (assuming he is the copyright owner) has authorized someone else to make and distribute recordings, he would trigger the compulsory license right. At least two artists, Amy Regan, and the Portland Cello Project, appear to have released authorized recordings. More importantly, when our staff spoke with Beck's publisher Kobalt Songs, (see screenshot, below), we were told that they grant Song Reader compulsory licenses. That would explain the presence of the Song Reader compositions at Limelight as well. So, a license from Limelight, or Kobalt, should secure your ability to sell your versions at iTunes.
P.S. As noted, Beck has set up a website for musicians to contribute their versions of Song Reader compositions.
screenshot from ASCAP site

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