Case Studies

Joseph McNeill: Licensing Music

Photograph of a man in a music recording suite
Photo by Amin Asbaghipour on Unsplash

Joseph McNeill, also known as “Saucypeanuts”, is a Byron Bay based performer and composer. Joseph decided to upload his song ‘Convoluted Aether’ to Triple J Unearthed and subsequently received interest from a party wanting to licence the song. Joseph contacted Arts Law in May 2014 seeking advice about copyright licensing. Arts Law explained that if Joseph wanted advice on the particular terms of a copyright licence he wanted to enter into then he would need to use Arts Law’s Document Review Service. Otherwise Arts Law could give him high level advice about the general issues that arise when licensing music. Joseph decided to receive high level advice from Arts Law first.

As the copyright owner of his song, Joseph has the exclusive right to reproduce (copy), publish, communicate to the public (e.g. put online), perform or make an adaptation of the song. Joseph also has the right to give someone else permission to exercise some or all of these exclusive rights – this is called a licence.

Arts Law referred Joseph’s query to one of our pro bono partners, law firm Finlaysons, to provide assistance. Finlaysons discussed with Joseph some common terminology used in licencing agreements including the difference between an exclusive and non-exclusive licence. For example, if Joseph was to enter into an exclusive licence with Triple J Unearthed to reproduce his song online, Joseph could not allow anyone else to use his song in the same way (including himself!) However under a non-exclusive licence, Joseph could permit others in addition to Triple J Unearthed to reproduce his song online. 

Finlaysons also explained that:

  • there were many different ways a  licence fee could be calculated including a one-off lump sum payment or an ongoing  royalty (which is based on a percentage of sales actually made);
  • the territory licensed determined where the licensing party could use Joseph’s song e.g. in Australia only or worldwide (if the song is to be available as a digital download from a website, then the territory will be worldwide);
  • if the duration of a copyright licence is described as ‘perpetual’ it meant that the licence would last for the duration of copyright (life of the author + 70 year).

The legal advice provided helped Joseph decide what to do next.

Further Arts Law resources that may assist with music licensing: