How to Get a Mechanical License

Written by alexander cequea
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How to Get a Mechanical License
You need a mechanical license to record and distribute copyrighted music. (music book. manuscript. music score image by L. Shat from

A mechanical license grants a distributor the rights to record and distribute songs for private use, according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). If you are manufacturing and distributing copies of a song, the lyrics of which you did not write and you have not yet signed an agreement with the song's publisher, you will need a mechanical license, regardless of whether you will sell these copies, per U.S. copyright law. If you wrote the song lyrics by yourself or the song is in the public domain, you do not need a mechanical license.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Choose the songs that you will reproduce in your record. Keep track of the names of the copyright owner or administrator (publisher) of each song and the full details of each song. For example, if you are in the United States, you can refer to performance rights organisations such as Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) or ASCAP to get the publisher's information.

  2. 2

    Write to the publishers and request a mechanical license. You will need to pay a royalty to the publisher for every record that you will sell or distribute. For example, BMI can collect the royalties on behalf of the publishers and distribute it to those members later.

  3. 3

    Make sure that the song is a nondramatic musical work. The song must not be a piece of an opera, a movie score or soundtrack. If the song is any of these, seek dramatic and grand rights, which are licensed by the composer or publishing company.

  4. 4

    Distribute the song in phonorecords, which refers to an audio-only mechanical playback device. Also the song must be commercially available to the public. Mechanical license agreements require compliance with these two conditions.

  5. 5

    Limit your usage of the song to phonorecords. If you want to make a video or put the song in a movie or CD-ROM, get the publisher's permission again.

  6. 6

    File a notice of intention to obtain a compulsory license with the Copyright Office's Licensing Division in the Library of Congress if you meet the above requirements.

  7. 7

    Get a compulsory mechanical license if you cannot find the copyright holders of the songs. You can file using the same notice of intention. File for a license to each song separately and pay a fee for each. The fee is £7 as of August 2010.

  8. 8

    Pay mechanical royalties on every record that you distribute every month to one of the three corresponding performance rights organisations in the United States: ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, originally known as the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers.

Tips and warnings

  • Negotiate with the publisher before getting the mechanical license. You can negotiate the percentage of the statutory rate you agree to pay to as little as 50 per cent.

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