What is Royalty-Free and Royalty Free Music?
Royalty-Free literally means free from royalties. In terms of music, royalty can be understood as a remuneration paid to the author of the music for licensing or sales of the rights to his works. Royalty-Free music should be understood as the music free from (further) royalties such as additional remuneration for reuse. It means that the clients or the music library customers can make just one payment for the opportunity to reuse the music in multiple projects under the purchased license.
The above definition is quite general. For better understanding of what royalty-free music is, we should look at it from different angles and think what else this term entails.
Royalty-Free and the law.
In relation to music or other works (i.e. images), the term royalty-free has no direct definition in copyright law. Associated with the general principle of paid use of works (such as music), it determines and defines a general range or model of using them.
Royalty-free music market
Royalty-free music and performing rights organizations
The term royalty-free music is directly related to the fact that the creators of music offered on this principle don’t belong to performing rights organizations (known as PROs) such as ZAIKS, GEMA, PRS, ASCAP, BMI, etc. Thus, they are not directly interested in receiving additional profits in the form of royalties for each use of the work that such organization would normally charge for the use of their music, for example, in the media.
Interestingly, for some performing rights organizations (such as Polish ZAIKS) the creator’s non-affiliation to a given PRO doesn’t mean that he won’t be accrued and paid additional profits in the form of royalties (I will explain why and when it happens in a paragraph below).
Royalty-Free – pay once, use forever
Music licensed on the royalty-free basis most often means lack of restrictions, both time and territorial in using music tracks. One fee covers perpetual use of a track. Licensee acquiring a relevant royalty-free licence does not need to worry about subsequent fees for the reuse of the track in a different production or about additional fees for subsequent broadcastings of a given production.
At Soundimage all licenses work on “pay once – use forever” basis without time and territory limitations. In addition to that, Extended and Unlimited licenses are those which cover multiple usages in different projects and productions. This means there are no extra fees for use of the licensed track in other projects (if only purchased license covers a required scope of use). However, it is not always necessary to use the same track in other productions. The purchase of music may also involve a conscious need to use it in a single specific project. Our Standard license is a cheaper option, because it is limited to one project and its fields of use are narrowed.
Royalty Free stock music
Royalty Free Music is primarily production music offered by music libraries and stock music sites. This is a quick solution because music tracks are available immediately and the process of acquisition of the rights is free from complicated procedures and the agency of PROs (which usually occurs when there is a need to obtain the rights to the tracks well-known from the radio or the mainstream). Furthermore, the issue of licensing rights to the tracks is fully regulated between the music library and the composer. The artist cooperating with the music library is not interested in receiving extra remuneration apart from the one he receives from the music library for license sales. At this point, we should ask what about royalties and fees for PROs?
In some countries, PROs, acting on the basis of their binding copyright, operate based on the principle of implied authority. This means that in fact these organizations have the right to manage the music of all artists and thus they can also charge fees for the broadcastings (on the radio or TV) of tracks of the artists non-affiliated with these organizations. This is the way in which ZAIKS, the main PRO in Poland, operates due to implied authority over all artists.
In such a case, royalty-free music is not really exempt from fees for PROs but what's important these fees are not paid by the clients, music buyers or film and commercial producers. Royalty-free music still remains for them free from additional fees. These fees are borne exclusively the broadcaster, i.e. major TV and radio stations. And they apply regardless of whether the music used at their station (directly or as music in a commercial) is the music of an artist affiliated or non-affiliated with a PRO. In each case, radio and TV stations pay to PROs a cyclically established amount calculated based on advertising revenue. These funds are allocated for additional remuneration for the composers, which is paid to them directly by PROs as royalties.
Royalty Free and the composer’s affiliation.
It is worth noting that in stocks and music libraries there are both composers affiliated and non-affiliated with PROs. Some of them define their music as royalty-free, because they are not interested in being members of PROs. Does it then mean that their music is totally free from royalties? Definitely it is free from royalties understood as additional charges of the customer and/or producer (of a film or commercial), because, as I have already pointed out, it is the broadcaster that bears the potential fees for the benefit of PROs.
And what does this issue look like from the composer’s perspective, including the one non-affiliated with any PRO? If his music is used in a film or commercial broadcasted on television, the tv station will also provide a PRO with the cue-sheet, containing of the information most of all title of the music and name of the composer So it's just the same whether the composer is affiliated or non-affiliated with a PRO (due to the above-described implied authority). And this is why based on information included in the cue-sheets any composer whose music is broadcast, no matter if he is affiliated or not, has opportunity to obtain additional remuneration from the PRO operating in his country.
It is worth remembering when filling out the cue-sheets relating to a spot, a film or a TV commercial. The cue-sheet should always include the name and surname of the composer, regardless of whether he is affiliated or not (royalty-free). This doesn’t mean any extra costs for the advertiser of the creator of a given production, but it allows the composer to obtain extra benefits in the form of royalties for the broadcasting of his music.
“Copyright free” music?
For the end, we may say what royalty-free music is not. Royalty free music is not copyright-free music. Sometimes we can find this term on the websites offering so-called music free of copyrights. Does this mean the same as royalty-free music? The answer is no. Copyright-free music literally has to be related to music which has no copyrights. This term may cause many misunderstandings as actually, besides some exceptions, there is no music which has no copyrights - if we are talking about music created by a man and not talking about folk/public domain music. Copyright-free could be applied to music which copyrights have ended but this is simply public domain music which is also something different. Every type of music or song has its author, composer or creator. This is why every piece of music is protected by copyright owned by someone. So copyright-free music not a synonym of 'royalty-free music' and moreover it is a term I'd personally avoid, as it describes something that cannot be related to someone's musical composition.
The term royalty-free music can be contained in a short definition saying that it is music free from extra fees. However, this definition doesn’t say everything and gives only a general idea of this term entails. As we can see, it is a complex subject and looking at it from various perspectives let us learn much more. I hope this article allows to become more familiar with the majority of the aspects concerning royalty-free music and to look at this subject in a slightly broader context.