Mechanical Licensing FAQ

General Licensing

What is a mechanical licence?

A mechanical licence is the agreement by which permission to reproduce a musical work on a sound carrier is granted by the copyright owner or its representative. “Mechanical” refers to the reproduction of copyrighted music in a “contrivance” for the “mechanical reproduction of music.” If this makes you think of music boxes, it’s because it is, admittedly, somewhat outmoded language. Nevertheless, “mechanical licence” is the customary industry term for such permission.

Such a licence is extremely specific: it is limited to a particular musical work, as reproduced by the user on a particular product. The licence is also specific as to the catalogue number of the product, the playing time of the recording and the performer.

Note that mechanical licences are not issued per album but, rather, on a song-by-song basis. If a product contains 10 songs, you must obtain permission for each one. Also because the ownership of a copyright can be divided between more than one owner, licences are required from all owners before the work is fully licensed.

Do I need a mechanical licence to import products in Canada?

Note that each country has its own mechanical licensing collective. The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) carries on business in the United Kingdom and issues licences for its territory, just as CMRRA does for Canada. Similarly, The Harry Fox Agency licenses for the territory of the United States. This is repeated throughout the world. If you plan to import products from another country, it is critical that you obtain mechanical licences from CMRRA as it is impossible for a foreign manufacturer to “clear” Canadian royalties unless it has entered into direct worldwide deals with the publishers involved. While possible, this is extremely rare.

The rule is simple: if you sell or distribute recordings in Canada, whether they were made here or elsewhere, they must be licensed in Canada and royalties must be paid in Canada.

What happens if I don’t apply for a mechanical licence?

If you manufacture or import sound carriers which reproduce copyrighted songs without obtaining a mechanical licence for each song (either directly from the publisher or through CMRRA) then you have infringed the copyrights in question. Canada’s copyright legislation provides for civil penalties and criminal prosecution for copyright infringement. If a product contains unlicensed music, it can be removed from the market by way of injunction. As well, anyone handling infringing merchandise is likewise guilty of infringement – including distributors, wholesalers and retailers. Copyright is the basis of the music industry. Without copyright protection, rightsholders would be unable to assure themselves of a reasonable return and the protection of law for their products. If you manufacture or import sound carriers into Canada, you must obtain licences. It’s the law.

How do I apply for a mechanical licence?

You must apply for a mechanical licence(s) for your product before you manufacture or import it. CMRRA issues mechanical licences through two basic plans: either “pay-as-you-press/ import”, or pursuant to the terms of the standard Mechanical Licensing Agreement. You'll find information on both of these plans in the Need a License? section of our website.

How much does it cost to obtain a mechanical licence?

CMRRA currently issues mechanical licences on the basis of 8.3 cents per song, per copy manufactured, where the playing time is five minutes or less. For each additional minute (or part thereof) 1.66 cents is added to the rate. Note however that a small number of publishers represented by CMRRA do not participate in the industry agreement and charge a higher-than-standard royalty rate.

This royalty rate is applicable only to reproduction of musical works embodied in audio-only sound recordings, such as CDs, cassettes and vinyl recordings. The royalty rate for the reproduction of musical works embodied in any other merchandise, such as toys, games, or any other special product is subject to individual negotiation.

If you are applying for a licence under CMRRA’s “pay-as-you-press” plan, your application will be subject to an additional handling fee. Please refer to our Pay-As-You-Press Licensing FAQ for more information in this regard.

If you have entered into CMRRA’s standard Mechanical Licensing Agreement, you may be entitled to a discount on the royalty rate above for budget recordings and musical works subject to controlled composition clauses. Please refer to the provisions of the agreement or contact us for assistance in this regard.

Are all the songs listed on your database represented by CMRRA?

No. Whenever a song is indicated as "not represented" in our database, it means that, while we have logged information such as the title, composer and/or publisher of the song, we do not represent the owner of that song for mechanical licensing purposes. There are many instances where the ownership of a song is divided between two or more publishers, and CMRRA may represent some, but not all, of those publishers. In these instances, we are able to issue licences on behalf of the publishers we represent, but before the user can legally reproduce the song in question, he or she must also obtain licences directly from the copyright owners that are not represented by CMRRA.

How do I know if CMRRA represents the songs that I want to license?

We invite you to search our song database. It’s free to use and does not carry any obligation of affiliation. After accepting the terms of use, you may then carry out song searches either by song title or by writer name.

The web site will offer you a list of potential titles based on the information that you enter. Please select the most relevant title; details will be available on the next screen that will indicate whether or not CMRRA represents shares of the song.

If you cannot find a specific title, or if you don’t know the names of the composer(s), we suggest that you send in a licence application to CMRRA, providing as many details as possible about the song (e.g. Title / composer / publisher / artist who performed the title). We will then be able to research the song and, if necessary, carry out verifications with our affiliated publishers. If ultimately we do not represent the song, we will refund the amount of the royalty payment to you. If you still wish to use a song that we do not represent, it is your responsibility to obtain a licence directly from the copyright owner.

Which songs are represented by CMRRA?

CMRRA’s online database contains more than two million songs and is an excellent source of information regarding compositions written and published by copyright owners located all over the world. While we do our best to ensure that all information concerning those compositions is accurate and up-to-date, song and catalogue ownership can change hands frequently and, as a result, the information may need to be verified with the publisher(s) in question. It is also possible that the song you are looking for is not listed in our online database. This does not mean that the composition is not represented by CMRRA but it does indicate that we will have to verify its ownership with the publisher(s) concerned if that publisher is represented by CMRRA.

The process of verifying song ownerships with our publishers may take a few days to many months and we cannot issue a license until this confirmation has been obtained. It may also happen on occasion that a copyright owner cannot be identified or located. If that’s the case with the composition you wish to use, CMRRA will refund the royalties to you after we have exhausted all possible avenues of research. At that point, if you can demonstrate that all reasonable efforts to locate the copyright owner have been made, you may then submit your license application to the Copyright Board of Canada pursuant to Section 70.7 of the Copyright Act. If you make applications to CMRRA for any songs which are in the public domain, or not represented by CMRRA, your payment for those songs will be refunded promptly (excluding the associated handling fees). In order to avoid submitting license applications and making a payment of royalties and handling fees for songs not represented by CMRRA, we invite you to research CMRRA's Song Database and Affiliated Publisher list in advance.

How do I locate the music publisher?

There are, literally, tens of thousands of music publishers, ranging from multi-national organizations to individual songwriters with very small catalogues. Finding a particular one can be time-consuming. For this reason, music publishers have formed larger bodies to centralize and standardize the process of licensing and collecting royalties. One such organization is CMRRA.

CMRRA represents the majority of music publishers doing business in Canada and can generally issue most of the mechanical licences you’ll need for your product. You can perform a search of CMRRA’s affiliated publishers here.

In some cases, however, there may be songs (or portions of songs) that we do not represent. In those cases, it’s your responsibility to obtain licences for the missing shares. There are a number of online resources available to locate copyright owners. The following organizations each have searchable online databases that we have found to be helpful in this regard:

What about the master recording?

Every recording of a copyrighted composition actually represents a blend of two copyrights: first, the copyright in the musical work itself , which is represented by the music publisher, and second, the recording of the musical work, which is usually owned by the record producer or record company involved. If you are the producer of the original sound recording, it is likely you own the copyright in the master recording. However, if you plan to reproduce a master owned by another party, you must obtain the permission of the owner of that recording, in addition to the necessary mechanical licences. Both copyrights must be properly licensed: the penalties for infringement of the master recordings are as serious as those for infringement of the song.

How do I get permission to use a master recording?

CMRRA does not represent the owners of master recordings and cannot obtain licences for you in this regard. For further information on master recordings please contact the following organizations:

I want to sample a recording and use it in my song. Do I have to pay?

Yes. In order to legally make use of songs and recordings you do not own or control, and which have been sampled in your recording, you must obtain the consent of the owners of the copyright in each of those songs, as well as the consent of the owners of each of the recordings you have used.

We suggest you start by contacting the record company that released the recording(s) you wish to sample in order to obtain a 'master rights' license. Once you have obtained the master rights licence, you must then obtain the music publisher's permission to sample the musical work. You may contact the publisher directly but providing a letter explaining your project and a copy of the master rights licence. Your letter should include:

a) the title of the musical work
b) a description of the use, i.e. how long the sample is
c) how many times it is used
d) duration of the sample
e) where it appears in your recording and which other songs are being used in your recording
f) any other pertinent information

Most music publishers and record companies are willing to license sample usage, but their terms and conditions can vary widely. Clearing samples can be a time-consuming process, so it is best to allow yourself ample time to complete the necessary licensing. If permission is granted, you will then need to submit a mechanical licence application pursuant to CMRRA's "Pay-As-You-Press" method, including a copy of the publishers' authorization.

Do I need to apply for a licence to record my own song?

If you are the sole copyright owner of the musical work, and have not assigned your rights to a music publisher or third party, you do not need to apply to CMRRA or a licence, nor pay mechanical royalties for the use of your own song. This is true even if you, as a copyright owner, are represented by CMRRA.

However, if you do not own or administer the 100% of the copyright in the song, you will need to obtain a licence for the share(s) you don't control.

Can I change the lyrics to a song, or use the music alone and add my own words?

While CMRRA can grant mechanical licenses for the reproduction of musical works controlled by its publishers, the words and the melody used for your recording must correspond to those of the original musical work. In other words, a license can only be granted for a new arrangement of a work if no changes are brought to the fundamental structure, chords and/or lyrics of the composition.

With the exception of public domain works, any fundamental modifications made to a musical work must first be approved in writing by its publisher(s), and possibly its author(s), before CMRRA can grant a license for it. Please note that if a composition is owned by more than one publisher, all publishers must give their authorization before the adaptation can be recorded. Since any publisher can refuse to authorize an adaptation or translation, we recommend that you not record your version of the song before the appropriate rights are secured.

The responsibility to secure these rights is that of the adaptor, translator or eventual recipient of the license. In order to obtain these rights, you must contact the concerned publisher(s) directly. Generally, a publisher will require the following information to approve an adaption/translation of its work:

  • The original title of the work used along with the name of its authors/composers;
  • The new title given to the adaptation along with the names of the adaptors/translators;
  • The original lyrics of the work being arranged;
  • The new or translated lyrics of the adaptation;
  • If the adaptation is in a language other than English, a literal English translation of the lyrics.

Once you have received the required approvals from the concerned publisher(s), CMRRA will be happy to issue the mechanical license(s) on behalf of the publisher(s) for your recording. Please note that a copy of the signed agreement between you and the concerned publisher(s) will need to be included in your license application.

Use of an already existing adaptation or translation:

If you wish to use an existing adaptation or translation of a musical work, you must send an application for mechanical licenses to CMRRA following the procedures outlined in the Instructions for Mechanical Licensing Application. On the form entitled Application for Mechanical Licensing, you must include both the title of the original work and the adapted work as well as the name of the authors and composers of the original work and the name of the adaptors and/or translators.

If the adaptation is registered as authorized in our database, you will be granted a license. However, it may happen that the adaptation/translation you wish to use has never been properly authorized by the concerned parties. If this is the case, and you still wish to reproduce the arrangement, you will have to follow the steps outlined above under "Creation of an adaptation or translation of an original work."

Cross-border Licensing

I’m pressing my CD in the U.S. but will distribute copies in Canada. Can CMRRA issue licences?

Yes, CMRRA issues licences for the sale or other distribution of audio products in Canada. If copies are pressed in the U.S. and some or all of the units are shipped to Canada, you will need to obtain a licence from CMRRA and pay royalties on those copies imported in Canada.

For the licensing of small quantities, you will need to apply for a licence under CMRRA's "pay-as-you-press/import" plan, and you will need to supply us with a cross-border confirmation instead of a pressing order.

I’m pressing my CD in Canada but don’t reside in Canada. Can CMRRA issue licences ?

To the extent the copies manufactured in Canada will also be sold or otherwise distributed in Canada, CMRRA can issue licences for your product. However, if you are manufacturing in Canada but exporting copies for distribution in the US or any other territority, CMRRA will not be able to license the copies exported outside Canada.

For the licensing of small quantities, you will need to apply for a licence under CMRRA's "pay-as-you-press/import" plan, and you will need to supply us with a cross-border confirmation instead of a pressing order.

I’m pressing my CD in Canada but want to export copies to another country? Can CMRRA issue licences?

CMRRA can only issue licences for the copies that remain for sale or other distribution in Canada. You will need to seek licences for the exported units from the licensing collective in the country of destination.

Pay-As-You-Press/Import Licensing

What is a “pay-as-you-press/import” licence?

A "pay-as-you-press/import" licence is a type of mechanical licence issued by CMRRA for licensees who only occasionally manufacture or import products in Canada or who do so in small quantities. Royalties for this type of licence must be paid in advance, along with the submission of the licence application, and is limited to the number of units manufactured/imported and paid for.

Can I pay royalties quarterly based on my sales?

No. The pay-as-you-press system is specifically designed for licensees who occasionally manufacture or import products, or do so in small quantities.  It is not economical for CMRRA to process small amounts of royalties on a quarterly basis as products are sold. As such, we require that payment be made upfront to minimize the administrative work associated with quarterly accounting.

Labels who are licensed under the Mechanical Licensing Agreement can report royalties to CMRRA on a quarterly basis as products are sold. However, they are also required to keep track of, and process, any change in the ownership of the musical works they have used in order to produce accurate royalty statements each quarter. This task in itself can be quite time consuming for them, and if not done properly, will lead to additional administrative costs and efforts to make the appropriate corrections. For most small licensees, this administrative burden is just not worth it, and the "pay-as-you-press" plan is the best option to meet their licensing obligations.

Also, note that our "pay-as-you-press" licences are only valid for the number of units manufactured and paid for. In the event you are manufacturing additional copies, you need to apply for new licences for those additional units.

What if I apply for licence, but the song is not represented by CMRRA?

If you have submitted a licence application and royalty payment for a song that CMRRA does not represent, we will issue a refund cheque to you once we have processed your application. Please note that CMRRA will only refund the royalties you have paid, and not the administration fee charged to process your application.

What is a pressing order? Why is it required?

A pressing order is a document sent by you to the manufacturer that confirms the number of units of your product that will be pressed. CMRRA requires this documentation to ensure you are paying royalties on all copies manufactured. In the alternative, you can also submit your pressing invoice, which would serve the same purpose. Note that we cannot accept a quote in lieu of a pressing order.

If you are manufacturing the product yourself, please submit a signed and dated written statement detailing the number of units manufactured.

Can the manufacturer start pressing my product as soon as I send my royalty payment to CMRRA?

No. A licence must be issued to you before your product can be manufactured. The fact that you have sent CMRRA a licence application and a royalty payment does not mean that we will be able to issue the licence you need for your project.

The manufacturer tells me that it cannot press my product until I have my licences, and CMRRA tells me that it cannot issue licences without a pressing order. How does this work?

The pressing order is a document you must submit to the manufacturer to place your order for a certain number of units. The manufacturer can (and should) put your order on hold until such time as your licence has been issued. We require that you submit a copy of this pressing order along with your licence application and royalty payment. Once the licence has been issued, you'll be able to return to the manufacturer and get your order processed.

How long can the licensing process take?

Where the ownership of the song you have applied for has already been registered with CMRRA by the copyright owner, you can expect to receive your licence within a 3 to 6 week period. This is highly dependent on the volume of applications received by CMRRA at any given time, and seasonality. Spring and the period leading to Christmas are generally very busy times for us. We find that we w

If the ownership of the song has not been registered with CMRRA by the copyright owner, it could take many more weeks or months before we are able to issue the licence. While we will endeavour to identify the copyright owner(s) and seek the required copyright registration from him or her, we cannot guarantee that we will receive this documentation in a timely fashion. The licence will be issued as soon as we've received the registration. In the event we find out that the song or copyright owner is ultimately not represented by CMRRA, we will let you know and you will need to obtain your licence directly.

What’s the methods of payment?

Payment can be made to CMRRA by way of:

1) cheque (where payment is made by cheque, your licence application will not be processed until your cheque has been cashed – usually one week from receipt).

2) certified cheque or

3) money order

For the quickest service, pay by way of certified cheque or money order and provide us with the required copy of your pressing order/invoice at the same time.

What’s your refund policy?

CMRRA’s refund policy will be applied based on the following two criteria:

Where a licence has already been issued:

Once your licence has been issued, CMRRA cannot to refund or credit any royalties for the song in question in the event you decide to not use it. It is very important that you are certain of the songs you wish to use before the licensing process is completed.

Where a licence has not yet been issued:

If a licence has not been issued, and you have decided to not use the song in question, CMRRA will refund the royalty portion of your payment for this song. Note that the Handling Fee will not be refunded to you.

I obtained a licence for a previous pressing of my CD. Do I need a licence for subsequent pressings?

Yes. The "pay-as-you-press" licence issued to you by CMRRA is limited to the number of units you manufactured and paid for. If you intend to manufacture in excess of the number of units specified on your licence, you need to obtain a new licence.

I misplaced/lost my licence, how can I get another copy?

If you have misplaced or lost your licence, you can submit a request for a reprint by filling out the Mechanical License Reprinting Form.  There is a fee of $20 per request, plus the applicable taxes (HST for provinces where it is applicable, otherwise GST only for provinces with no HST). U.S. residents are exempt.

Can CMRRA send copies of my application/royalty payment/licences to my presser?

No. It is the applicant’s responsibility to retain copies of his or her application forms, royalty payment and licences for this purpose. CMRRA does not forward copies of licences or other documents to anyone but the applicant.

I want to manufacture a small number of CD’s for a promotional giveaway or a charitable organization. Do I still have to pay royalties?

Yes. CMRRA does not issue gratis licences on behalf of its music publisher clients. All reproductions of a musical work must be licensed, at the applicable royalty rate, no matter what purpose they will serve or the number of copies being pressed.

I want to make a demo CD. Do I have to obtain licences and pay royalties?

Yes. You must obtain licences for the musical works reproduced in your demo. You will be required to obtain licences using our “pay-as-you-press” plan. Our licences will authorize you to manufacture up to the number of units you paid for, with a minimum of 500 units.

How do I license a medley? Why are the individual songs in the medley licensed separately?

The musical works in a medley are equally valued by the music publishers who own them and each one is individually licensed at the same royalty rate as non-medley works. We treat each one as though they are separate and independent songs on your product.

As such, we require a separate licence application for each song, with an indication that the song is used as part of a medley. When specifying the duration of the song, please indicate only the duration for that particular portion of the medley - and not the duration of the entire medley.

Can publishers demand a higher royalty rate than the standard rate outlined in CMRRA’s documentation?

Yes, but very few of the publishers represented by CMRRA do. We’ll let you know if your licence application is subject to a higher royalty rate once we’ve had the opportunity to review it.

Has the royalty rate changed since my initial pressing?

The mechanical royalty rate has increased periodically since 1988. Please refer to the table below for information on the applicable royalty rate for a given year.

The values below are stated in cents ($C) as the minimum rate for recordings with a running time of five minutes or less and the added rate per minute or partial minute of running time:

June 22, 1988 to September 30th 1989 5.25/1.25
October 1st 1989 to December 31, 1991 5.9/1.18
1992-93: 6.25/1.25
1994-95: 6.47/1.30
1996-97: 6.7/1.34
1998-99: 7.1/1.42
2000-01: 7.4/1.48
2002-03: 7.7/1.54
2004-05: 8.5/1.70
2006-07: 7.7/1.54
2008-09: 8.1/1.62
2010-12: 8.3/1.66

Where a “pay-as-you-press” license has been earlier issued to you at a lower rate, you will be obliged, as the rates increase from time to time, to pay the new, higher rates should you need to press further copies of your recording.

I want to include a song on my product that was written more than 50 years ago. Is it in the public domain?

Not necessarily. In Canada, a musical work will fall in the public domain starting on January 1st of the year following a fifty year period after the death of the last surviving author. For instance, if the last surviving author died on say, July 15, 1940, the work will enter the public domain on January 1, 1991.

So, the process is a matter of finding out when the author(s) died. Of course, if the author is still alive then the work is protected by copyright and needs to be licensed.

Likewise, note that there are many copyrighted arrangements of public domain works that also need to be licensed when reproduced. If a song is in the public domain, and you're reproducing your own arrangement, you do not require a licence and you don't need to pay royalties.