Performance Rights Organizations
These license radio and television, primarily, and distribute a large portion of the money collected to the copyright holders of music.
The internet, for example, is now coming over this control and webcasters must pay a fee based on their size or income to the national licensing body.
Clubs and restaurants that play music or show television must obtain licenses.
The copyright holder of music, which is usually the publisher but can also be the songwriter, only gets a share of this money if they formally affiliate with the organization, which usually requires some criteria be met on the part of the copyright holder. Then to be awarded money their songs must show up in a logging reported to the licensing organization. This varies widely from country to country or even within organizations.
In the United States there are two primary songwriters organization covering radio and television. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI).
ASCAP is the oldest, founded in 1915 by New York publishers and songwriters. It is member owned and member run. You must have a commercial record with a silk screened label (not a CD-R) or published sheet music to be a full member or own a copyright to be an associate member.
BMI was founded by media companies in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s to compete with ASCAP, who they felt was changing too high a license fee. BMI when the many black and country songwriters who were not fully embraced by ASCAP and offered them airplay and licensing money. BMI attempted to collect foreign monies for them but was blocked so they filed a suit in U.S. Federal Courts and won the right to compete for foreign monies. BMI is privately owned but operates for the benefit of those songwriters and publishers who are affiliates. To join BMI your song must simply “be likely to be played on BMI licensed media.”
In the UK the licensing organization is Performances Rights Society (PRS). Each country generally has their own organization pattered, lately, after ASCAP in how they operate.
ASCAP requires that a publisher member collect the publishing money, but with BMI this is an option. ASCAP charges a yearly fee to members ($10 for writers and $50 for publishers) even if they don’t make income. BMI charges nothing to songwriters and one time $150 fee to set up a publishing affiliation.
Both generally require that the songs show the title, name of the songwriters, publisher and the initials of the licensing organization on the disc label.
ASCAP surveys about 1% of all radio by hiring a firm to do off the air taping and write down the titles of songs they hear. BMI does about 10% of radio by collecting all the logs kept by a group of radio stations selected at random to be audited. Both collect logs for the television networks and many local stations. PRS collects logs from all stations in the UK.
Each logging is given a weight. ASCAP goes solely by station size, while BMI uses both station size and the airplay history of a song. Songs can have a factor of 1, 1.5, 2, 3 or 4 based on how many airplays they get over their lifetimes. Only a few Beatles songs are in the “4” level of BMI, the rest of their songs have not yet reached that level, so you need a lot of airplay to get 4 times the money.
One PRS logging is worth about $20. One BMI logging is given a book value of 6 or 12 cents, but this is them multiplied by other factors. One ASCAP logging is given a book value of about $2.60, again multiplied by factors. ASCAP states that one radio airplay on a hit station is worth about $70 and one primetime network television airing is worth about $700. BMI awards between $9 and $36 per prime time station a network (there are about 200 stations) so BMI may more for television while ASCAP may pay more for radio.
According to songwriter and musician Gary Holland who was on a major label with hit songs and has received money from both, they pay about the same for major airplay each quarter.
Paul Anka wrote the old Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” theme song and stated his put all of his kids through college off that airplay money. He would get between $100 and $300 twice a night (opening and closing theme), 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Even on the low side that amounts to about $25,000 a year or roughly half a million dollars over the run of the show which spans from the 1960s to the 1990s.
One cartoon show production company became worth a billion or more off royalties made from Saturday morning cartoon shows. At one time they did 12 shows in the same day.
On the downside if you don’t get anymore radio airplay get nothing or worse, one ASCAP member I know owes them about $500 in back dues!
One other licensing organization in the United States is the Harry Fox Agency of New York City, who licenses live Broadway stage, motion pictures, foreign publishing, co-publishing, recordings and other “grand rights.” Only publishers can affiliate with this organization and they pick and chose who to accept based on your songs existing radio airplay in other reported mediums.
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