18 Feb

Why Should Music Creators Get Royalties?

Hey Your Music, Your Future community – composer Mark Williams here:

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock (or your keyboard), you’ve probably recently read about composer’s royalties being jeopardized by various media companies.

What does this mean for composers in the long run?

Since history has a way of repeating itself, I think a quick history lesson on royalties may help us all gain a better perspective. Not to be too academic, but it affects your ability to be a music professional versus creating music as a hobby!

I thought composers have collected performing rights royalties for over 100 years in the USA?

France has not only contributed great works of art to society, but also has been instrumental (pun intended) in the creation of the performing rights society as we know them today. In 1847 Ernest Bourget, Victor Parizot, and Paul Henrion were paid for the public performance of their music at Les Ambassadeurs, a café-concert located in Paris. The French courts validated and upheld the rights of these gentlemen and all other composers, authors, and publishers – eventually leading to the formation of SACEM in 1851.

Fast forward to 1909, the United States Copyright Act affirmed that composers, authors, and publishers were to be paid for the performances of their music. Shortly after, in 1917 Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the United States Supreme Court stated that “If music did not pay, it would be given up.” Reason behind this quote? Victor Herbert’s music was being played on a player-piano at Shanley’s Restaurant in New York City – Shanley’s was quickly court ordered to pay royalties for the public performance of Herbert’s music.

Why should music creators get royalties?

Well, the US Supreme court determined that music enhances the value of businesses. Makes sense to me. Have you ever enjoyed a concert without music? What about a film, TV series or Opera? Music is powerful and has value!

Chief Justice Holmes (again, a big fan of the music community) summarized it well when he said, “whether it pays or not, the purpose of employing [music] is profit and that is enough.” This decision fueled ASCAP, which had been formed in 1914 by 182 members including Victor Herbert, Irving Berlin, James Weldon Johnson, Jerome Kern, and John Philip Sousa. A few decades later BMI was formed in 1939 and SESAC in 1940. Composers had a choice to affiliate with their preferred society, but they all shared one common goal: the proper licensing and distribution of royalties to everyone for public performances of their music.

“If music did not pay, it would be given up.” – Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

This is YOUR Music, YOUR Future!

We as composers have invested our entire lives into the creation of music to make the world a better place as it’s a lifelong pursuit that only the bravest pursue. Only the tenacious survive, knowing that eventually our work will begin to repay us for the lifetime we have committed to music.

Our society is better because of you, and our society needs your music. Keep creating and know your rights!

Mark T. Williams, Composer
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