Apple Music in hot water over unpaid mechanical royalty payments

January 2018

Music publishing


Mechanical royalties are the royalties paid to a songwriter when a copy of the songwriter’s song is reproduced. The term mechanical royalties dates back to the days when music was recorded on piano rolls. Nowadays, it relates to the sale of any sound recording that is within copyright. Therefore, every time a sound recording is manufactured into a CD, downloaded, or streamed this “mechanical” process will generate a royalty. The royalty will then usually be passed through the collection societies and to the songwriter, well not in Apple Music’s case. 

Apple Music has found itself in “treble” ;) over allegations of not paying the correct mechanical royalties due to US songwriters. However, mechanical royalties and streaming platforms are having bit of a hard time as of late. Spotify, Tidal, Slacker and Google Play have all been on the receiving end of mechanical royalty payment lawsuits. 

Generally speaking the streaming platforms are claiming that they want to pay songwriters their due mechanical royalties. But, because of inefficient US framework for the collection of mechanical royalties in the US it is difficult for the streaming platforms to pay every songwriter.

In the streaming platforms’ defence, unlike the UK, the US does not have an industry accepted mechanical rights collection society. In the UK we have MCPS a collection society that collects and distributes mechanical royalties for songwriters, but there exists no such society in the US. 

Not having a mechanical rights collection society is not only a headache for songwriters, it is also a headache for users of the mechanical rights. This is due to the fact that in the UK I can get a “blanket licence” to mechanically reproduce what I want, whereas in the US I would need to go to each individual to get permission and pay the subsequent royalty. 


Its big business too, in Apple’s case the class action lawsuit is looking for statutory damages of $30,000 for each song of each class member which has been streamed by Apple Music but Apple has not paid the mechanical royalties.  

Fingers crossed for a US wide mechanical rights collection society – for the songwriters, the mechanical reproducers and the courts!

This update by Sam O’Toole 


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