The Music Modernization Act is now in effect, and with it the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC)—a collection and disbursement collective, as well as a public database, for United States mechanical royalties generated through digital streaming, which is the vast majority of modern music consumption. This is a paradigm shift in the domestic music economy, especially for small and independent music publishers. Here is a guide on how to register your music correctly and make sure you get your money.

What the MLC Is, What It Does, and What It Doesn’t Do

The MLC collects and distributes United States digital mechanical royalties. Mechanical royalties are paid for the copying of musical compositions and are one of many kinds of income that can be generated from musical compositions in the United States. Note that these are distinct from public performance royalties (which are for the actual performance of a composition and are collected and paid out by performance rights organizations (PROs such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC), or digital sound recording royalties (which are for the performance of sound recordings on non-interactive digital platforms and are collected and paid by SoundExchange), or synchronization fees (which are paid directly to rights holders for use of compositions and sound recordings in audiovisual works). Mechanical royalties are traditionally associated with the physical copying of musical compositions, such as vinyl, cassette, and CDs. However, mechanical royalties are also owed for downloads and streams of musical compositions—this digital use is the only type of mechanical royalty the MLC licenses and collects. Therefore, the MLC will not be able to assist you if you are seeking (a) performance income, (b) income related to sound recordings, (c) income related to audiovisual uses, (d) income related to physical products, or (e) income generated outside the United States.

Where are your rights?

The initial question you must ask yourself is how much of your songs do you own. If you work with other creators, hopefully you have agreed to ownership splits with those creators, as the amount you own of any particular work will be necessary information for registering that work. If you have a written agreement, that is best. If you have a mutual understanding, I strongly suggest putting it in writing—especially if you wrote more than half. If there is no agreement about a specific split, then it will likely be found to be an even split between all creators. Even if the song is already written, it is better to have this discussion soon than later.

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