Get Your Rights Right Here

Get Your Rights Right Here
Clip and save this handy guide to the basics of music rights in Canada. Rights lead to royalties: know this stuff and you can get paid!

This is the trunk from which all your other rights branch out. When you write a song, you create an automatic copyright in the music. The lyrics have their own copyright. In Canada, you do not need to register copyrights for them to be valid and enforceable: a copyright exists the moment your song or lyrics are written down or recorded in some form. Copyright breaks down into all your other rights, like reproduction and performance. The idea behind copyright is that society enjoys a lot of good stuff that comes from creativity. Creators can’t just give their stuff away — they’d starve! We acknowledge that creators need to make a living. To do that, they must have the right to control their creations in the free market. That control is legally expressed as "copyright.” The first thing musicians do when they get into the music business is to sell or license all or part of their copyrights to record labels and publishers. Often, the label or publisher will give them a chunk of money — an advance against royalties — in exchange for the use or purchase of the copyrights. At that point, the label or publisher has the control that copyright gives.

Every time a song is recorded, the master recording has a copyright that’s separate from the rights in the composition itself. "Owning the masters” really means owning the masters’ copyright. Owning your masters gives you control over the deals you make, and that at the end of the day or the deal, you own your own body of work. The "control of the market” aspect of copyright is these days under heavy fire because digital technology takes away control. Anyone can easily get music, copy it, share it, even sell it. For music fans, this can be a great thing, but for copyright owners, it’s a nightmare. Some artists believe that without control, their copyrights have no value and that they will be made to starve or take up plumbing. Some artists are furious that their labels are suing fans for sharing copyrighted music, even though they themselves may lose money every time it happens. Some people think the old notion of copyright should be done away with altogether, replaced by culture taxes or other kinds of licenses, such as Creative Commons ( The debate rages on.

Reproduction Rights
The right to reproduce copyrighted material is fundamental: it’s the "copy” in "copyright.” In the music business, the first reproductions were compositions reproduced on sheet music. In the 19th century when copyright law was first codified, the reproductions were made on a printing press (rather than by hand) and so were called "mechanical reproductions.” Copyright law entitles you to be paid a royalty for every mechanical reproduction of your composition, and over the years that has come to mean every recording of it on vinyl or CD, and now, every digital track, whether downloaded or streamed. When someone "mechanically reproduces” your composition, like when a label presses 1000 copies of your CD, you should be paid a royalty for each copy. This is one of the rights that music publishers will advance you money for. If you have a publishing deal, it’s their job to go after record labels and other users to make sure they pay the mechanical. Publishers and unsigned songwriters can also assign the right to collect the mechanical to an agency like SODRAC ( or the CMRRA ( SODRAC and CMRRA also collect and distribute "broadcast mechanicals.” This is money that radio, TV and other broadcasters must pay for the right to mechanically reproduce your compositions in-house, like when they put your CD on a hard drive. Everyone who owns mechanical rights and who has material being broadcast is entitled to a share, however tiny. Record labels often pay you the mechanical directly and at the same time as they pay your share of record sales royalties. This should be negotiated and set out clearly in your deal.

Performance Royalties
Another key component of musical copyright is the right to publicly perform the composition. That includes performing the song in a live setting, but since the onset of radio, "public performance” has also come to mean almost everything in the broadcast and loudspeaker setting. All licensed broadcasters (including net-based ones) must pay a tariff to legally broadcast music, and so do other businesses who use recorded music to create an ambience that attracts clients, including roller rinks, airport lounges, ringtones and yes, bars. The Copyright Board sets these tariffs for Canada; they are then collected and distributed to composers and other rights holders (like music publishers) by SOCAN ( If you have ever written a song that’s been played on the radio or live, you should join SOCAN: it’s non-profit and free to join. Plus, SOCAN has reciprocal agreements with other countries, so if you get all your airplay in the Czech Republic, never fear, eventually you can get your Czech performance royalties through SOCAN. SOCAN recently proposed a new tariff that would stick a performance royalty to downloaded music; the tariff is under review.

Neighbouring Rights & Private Copying Royalties
Songwriters get the glory but performers and others involved in the making of recordings are also important. Since 1997 Canada and other lands have recognised "neighbouring rights” in music recordings, so called because they’re right next door to copyright. Money from tariffs paid by sound recording users is collected by the NRCC (, but to get a performer’s share, you need to assign your collection rights (even if you’re not a member) to either the AFM (, ACTRA ( or L’UDA ( If you’re a label, you can assign collection rights to the AVLA (, the IDLA ( or SOPROQ ( Meanwhile, songwriters, performers and record labels all get the occasional nickel from private copying royalties. These are meant to compensate copyright owners for home copying; the tariffs are paid by manufacturers of blank media. See for details.