Scruffy, Indie folk-rock from Transylvania

Licensing Changes For My Music

Posted by admin On September - 9 - 2010

Some of you might have noticed, I recently changed the licensing on both my “Monsters In Rome” record as well as the “Jabulani” song – from the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike to the more restrictive Attribution Non-Commercial license. I have tried for a long time to figure out which option would be best for me, and at the time I did choose the Attribution Share-Alike license over the Non-Commercial one for a good reason, I am now faced with no choice in the matter, but to restrict some aspects of licensing terms. I would like to explain myself in this post.

Before I continue, I would like to point out that ongoing projects will not be affected by the new licensing terms. These terms only apply after September 1st 2010.

Creative Commons is a wonderful thing. I think it’s a great, it’s the perfect tool for the times we live in. Anyway, the CC Attribution Share-Alike license, under which my songs were originally licensed, allowed free distribution and adaptation of the work under the condition of attributing it in the manner specified by me and re-distributing any resulting works under a similar license.
What this means is: you could copy or distribute the work in any way, you could adapt (build upon) the work any way you saw fit as long as you attributed the original author (moi) and you made your resulting works public under the same conditions. This included commercial use as well. I didn’t think this would be a bad idea, because the medium in which all recorded music is tossed around these days is very unclear about some things.
For example: if an mp3 blog were to post one of my tracks, who can decide if that constitutes a commercial or non-commercial use of the song? Truth is, the online medium is constantly evolving. More and more free content is made available while websites and blogs try to find new and more intuitive ways of monetizing their efforts. One can easily see why this gets complicated with a restrictive license, like the Non-commercial one. I didn’t want to get in the way of my music being promoted, it was as simple as that.
So why change licenses now?
Along with the world wide web the music industry – especially the indie music scene – is also rapidly changing. Let’s face it, music is free on the internet. I am sure anyone can download all of my songs without paying for them if they so choose. I am totally clear with that. But there still are some means of making money with your music, asides from selling it to whoever is willing to pay.
That money tree has two major branches – licensing and mechanical rights. While licensing (for use in TV Shows, ads, documentaries, background music for events, websites or whatever) can still be achieved with a non-restrictive CC license, I can’t collect any mechanical royalties, because with all CC licenses that allow commercial use of the work I’d have to waive any such rights. Now if someone would plug one of my songs to a hit TV show (like Grey’s Anatomy or something :P) I would be missing out on a lot of revenue. This is because when a performance rights organization collects mechanical royalties on your behalf, that would count as a super bonus on top of the licensing fee you would get for that feature.
You see, I would have to miss out on all that. Which I wouldn’t really mind… if I could do the licensing work myself. Unfortunately, for this I would have to become an agent – and I’d rather stay a musician – and the people who will be trying to land me such opportunities from now on, will be taking half of my cut. So I decided to keep collecting the mechanical royalties, just to stay afloat. Hope you understand and won’t hold it against me.

On a final note: I am still a reasonable person so don’t fret to drop me a line if you have anything at all to say about this. Would be happy to hear from you. 🙂

6 Responses to “Licensing Changes For My Music”

  1. Chris Lott says:

    I’m not sure I get the problem. Even under a CC-BY-SA, you can waive the SA clause for anyone you wish to. Since those outlets wanting to use the music in a commercial, non-SA way would be asking you for permission under traditional copyright anyway, I don’t see how using the SA license prohibits you making money that way? Or is it simply having to grant the exceptions, which you’ll still have to do with the CC-BY-NC for the very same organizations, won’t you?

  2. admin says:

    The problem is collecting royalties owed by Performance Rights Organizations. With a CC-BY-SA you shouldn’t be collecting these royalties.

  3. Chris Lott says:

    Sorry, I guess I’m dense because I’m still confused. An organization that wants to pay you royalties is practically, by definition, a profit-making enterprise, so in order to use your NC licensed music, they will have to ask you for a waiver. So is it just that the organizations won’t ask for a waiver for the SA licensed material or ??

  4. Hi, referred here via

    I think what Chris is saying is this — CC BY-SA waives royalties ONLY when one is using under terms of BY-SA. Anyone who doesn’t want to use under those terms (eg they don’t want to release their video under BY-SA, as required since the license explicitly says that synching a video to music creates a derivative of the music) would not be covered by any permission of the license, including royalty waiver. They’d have to get a separate deal from you or pay compulsory royalties.

    That said, any use in compliance with BY-SA (ie either verbatim, not synched or other derivative created, or derivative released under BY-SA; and of course credit to you), royalties are waived.

    CC BY-NC isn’t that different — royalties are waived for noncommercial uses. If the use is commercial, user would need to get a separate deal, pay royalties.

    The difference is in which cases royalties are waived — for BY-SA, when work used verbatim, no derivative created, or derivative released as BY-SA; for BY-NC, when work is used noncommercially.

    By the way, if someone really wants to make it unnecessary to ever pay royalties, one could release music under CC BY (nothing needed for compliance other than giving credit) or even CC0 (no requirements at all). On the other hand, if one wants to permit as few uses as possible but still use a CC license, there’s BY-NC-ND, or of course there’s always the option of not using a CC license at all. 🙂

    Hope that helps! I’m not a lawyer, this isn’t legal advice, check with your lawyer, etc.

  5. admin says:

    OK, I will try to clear up the confusion then. As far as music is concerned, there are Mechanical Rights and Statutory Royalties to be considered. I decided I want to collect royalties generated from the public performance of my material, when used commercially.
    So the thing is, when you authorize a PRO to represent you, you will no longer have the right to waive or authorize anything, because the PROs will be taking care of that. So if I were to allow anyone to use the works in any way they desire, but at the same time I authorize a Performance Rights Organization to collect royalties on my behalf, they will be knocking at your door to collect my money – although you thought you didn’t owe me anything. It’s pretty clear, I think. That is why the BY-SA is non-compatible with this course of action, while the BY-NC is.

    Here’s what the legal code for both of these licenses says about this on the website:

    1. For BY-SA: “Mechanical Rights and Statutory Royalties. Licensor waives the exclusive right to collect, whether individually or via a music rights society or designated agent (e.g. Harry Fox Agency), royalties for any phonorecord You create from the Work (“cover version”) and distribute, subject to the compulsory license created by 17 USC Section 115 of the US Copyright Act (or the equivalent in other jurisdictions).”


    2. For BY-NC: “Mechanical Rights and Statutory Royalties. Licensor reserves the exclusive right to collect, whether individually or via a music rights agency or designated agent (e.g. Harry Fox Agency), royalties for any phonorecord You create from the Work (“cover version”) and distribute, subject to the compulsory license created by 17 USC Section 115 of the US Copyright Act (or the equivalent in other jurisdictions), if Your distribution of such cover version is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.”


    Thank you for your attention, by the way :).

  6. Brock says:

    Have you ever received royalties for any of your CC-licensed works?

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