Copyright is a form of property. Under Canadian law, a musical work is copyrighted if its author is still living, or if the author died less than 70 years ago. If more than one author created the work, copyright extends until 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. In the language of copyright, “author” means both the composer of the music and the lyricist. If more than 70 years have elapsed, the work is said to be “in the public domain”. This means that there is no copyright and, in effect, no one owns it. An arrangement of a public domain work, however, is itself copyrighted for the life of the arranger plus 70 years.
The owner of a copyright has certain exclusive rights regarding the use of the musical work. Put simply, this means that he or she is the only person that can reproduce (i.e. make copies of) of the work or perform it in public, and is the only person that can authorize others to do the same. If a person exercises those rights without the copyright holder’s consent, such use is called an infringement of the copyright and is subject to civil and criminal proceedings.
When a copyrighted song is embodied on a sound carrier (such as a record, tape, CD) or in a digital file for the purpose of online music distribution or other use, that is an exercise of the reproduction right in the song. CMRRA is in the business of the granting such permission on behalf of the music publishers the collection of royalties in return for such reproduction and the distribution of such revenues to its publishers.
When a copyrighted song is played on the radio or television, or performed in a theatre or concert, that’s an exercise of the performance right in the song. In Canada, publishers and songwriters receive royalties for such use from the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), a performing rights society which collects revenues from broadcasters and others for the public performance of musical works. For more information about SOCAN, visit their website at www.socan.ca.
It is also worth noting that the reproduction right is engaged whenever a copyrighted song is embodied in an audiovisual production (such as a film, television program, or commercial). This is sometimes known as a “synchronization” or “synch” since the song is synchronized to play along with visual content.
CMRRA does not administer synchronization licences, you need to get permission directly from the publisher(s) in order to use a song in an audiovisual production. For more information about how to find and contact music publishers, please see our Repertoire page.
Yes, there are a number of other rights under copyright law. For example, the owners of master recordings control the reproduction right for their copyright protected work, and are entitled to compensation for exercises of that right (such as background music suppliers and DJs). For more information about the reproduction of sound recordings, please visit the websites for CONNECT Music Licensing (at www.connectmusic.ca) and SOPROQ (at www.soproq.org). Similarly, both the owners of sound recordings as well as performers on those sound recordings are entitled to compensation for the performance of the sound recording. These are called “neighbouring rights,” and they are administered in Canada by Re:Sound. Please visit their website at www.resound.ca for more information.
The person or company which owns or administers a copyright is usually called the music publisher. The publisher represents the interests of the songwriter and works to maximize the revenue of its catalogue of musical compositions. The publisher usually makes a deal with the songwriter for the sharing of revenue. It often happens that a songwriter acts as his or her own publisher. “Music publishing” originally meant the printing and sale of sheet music. Today, although publishers remain, to a limited degree, in the sheet music business, their main task is the promotion of the use of their copyrights through three primary routes: reproduction rights, performance rights and synchronization rights.
A copyrighted musical work can be owned by a person or company in the same manner as any other property. It can be bought and sold, either in whole or in partial shares.
► I want to include a song on my product that was written more than 70 years ago. Is it in the public domain?
As of December 30, 2022, the term of copyright in Canada was extended from 50 years after the death of the last surviving author to 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. All copyright protected works whose copyright already expired on or before December 2021 will remain in the public domain; however, works for which the last surviving author died on January 1, 1972 or later will have copyright protection for a period of 70 years following the end of the year of death of that last surviving author.
As an example, if a writer died on July 30, 1972, his or her solely written works will go into the public domain on January 1, 2043. If a writer died on July 30, 1971, his or her solely written works went into public domain on January 1, 2022.
For licensing purposes, please note there are many copyrighted arrangements of public domain works. A licence will be required to reproduce these. If a song is confirmed to be in the public domain, and you're producing your own arrangement, you do not require a licence and no royalties are owed.
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.
CMRRA issues mechanical licences for physical products through two basic plans: Pay-As-You-Press/Import, or pursuant to the terms of CMRRA’s standard Mechanical Licensing Agreement (MLA). CMRRA also issues mechanical licences for songs reproduced digitally (such as downloads and streams) with different rates depending on the type of reproduction. For more information, please visit CMRRA’s Tariffs page or see our Online Music Services Tariff Rates chart, or consult our Online Licensing FAQ for more answers.
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.
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: