What Is a Compulsory License?

A general overview

A compulsory license is a clause in copyright law that grants anyone permission to use your work in certain circumstances. They must be issued for cable television broadcasts, jukeboxes, PBS programming, and, most common, for digital and physical sound recording releases. The latter is considered a compulsory mechanical license. It means musicians can re-record any song that has already been commercially released without specific permission from the composition rightsholder. 

In other words, if you wanted to record your version of “Bills, Bills, Bills” — or any other commercial release, for that matter — you would not need explicit permission from Destiny’s Child’s publisher so long as they were paid the statutory mechanical rate for each copy sold of your cover song. The statutory rate for physical and download releases in the U.S. is 9.1¢ per song, or 1.75¢ per minute of playing time — whichever is greater. Digital streaming services (like Spotify or Apple Music) operate on a blanket license basis for mechanical royalties.

Please note that this rate varies by country. For more information, be sure to visit the official site of the U.S. Copyright Office. 


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