It’s Time for a Compulsory License for Musical Arrangements

Photo credit: Andrew Gustar via CompfightAs an arranger of musical works, I often feel as though my hands are tied behind my back.

I have arranged hundreds of songs for various events and groups, 99% of them being a capella in nature. I would love to publish these arrangements and make them available to the general singing public. How many have I published to date? One. Count them. One. Do not proceed to two.

The problem, as far as it concerns me, is in obtaining a license to publish. Now, any recorded work is a different story. If there is a song that I’d like to record that is something other than public domain, the tools are in place to obtain a mechanical license to be able to record and publish (thank you Harry Fox, Limelight, Loudr and others). Release on video? No problem, just get a sync license.

To release a written arrangement of a work… well that’s a horse of another color. There are no laws in place that allow you to do so. An arranger must contact the owner of the song and request a license to release the arrangement. The answer can be no. Or, the answer could be, “You want to release an arrangement that may sell 10 copies? Ok, that’ll be $2,000.00.” Might as well be a no.

Responses and processes are all over the map. All those composers¬†who make themselves available to arrange that special song you’ve been wanting? Most likely you are breaking the law, since the majority of them do not seek permission and leave it up to you to request the necessary license. And who will most likely get zapped if the copyright police come calling? The arranger.

I read an article that sums up the problem quite nicely.¬†Jonathan Minkoff wrote “The Legality of Arranging” in 2009 and it’s still applicable today (unless a law has changed since I wrote this in the summer of 2014). It’s worth your time to read, but I quote his last paragraph:

The best answer, as I’ve proposed in the past, isn’t a change in the behavior of all these arrangers. It’s a change in the law. It’s time for a compulsory license for musical arrangements. Composers get revenue, arrangers and artists get peace of mind and everybody wins.

I agree. And I’ve got loads of arrangements waiting on it. How about you?

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