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The HFA website provides answers to commonly asked questions about mechanical licensing and other related inquiries.

What does HFA do?

The Harry Fox Agency represents music publishers for their mechanical and digital licensing needs. We issue licenses and collect and distribute royalties on our affiliated publisher's behalf. This includes licensing for the recording and reproduction of CDs, ringtones, and Internet downloads. HFA also conducts royalty examinations, investigates and negotiates new business opportunities, and pursues piracy claims.

HFA delivers a diversified suite of copyright, licensing, royalty distribution, technology and consulting services to key music industry participants. HFA can provide our clients with speed-to-market and cost-efficiencies that eliminate the need to invest in infrastructure and staff to handle back-office functions. 

HFA does not:

  • Represent songwriters and publishers for the placement of their music in films and for use by other performers.
  • Administer performance rights that permit the play or performance of the music in a public setting such as a restaurant, concert hall, radio station, or nightclub.
  • Issue print rights that are required to change the lyrics, or to publish them in printed form.
  • Issue master use rights that permit the use of an original artist recording.
  • Provide clearance for the use of samples.

HFA is often confused with the performing rights societies, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Performing rights are separate and apart from mechanical rights, and are necessary to obtain for public performance of copyrighted music, such as at concerts, radio and television broadcasts, and the like. We suggest you contact these companies if you are interested in only performance rights.

Neither HFA nor the performing rights companies issue the rights for printed lyric reproduction.

For "master use" or sampling rights, you will also need to contact the owner of the master recording, usually the record company that issued the original recording. You can discover what record label issued the recording by looking it up on a retail website, such as Amazon.com.

What is a Publisher?

A music publisher owns or administers works written by songwriters. Publishing companies range from large, multi-national corporations to individual, self-published songwriters. Publishers discover and promote songwriting talent, as well as provide important business services for their songwriters. These services include pitching their song catalog to music executives, recording artists, producers, managers and others to secure placement for the songs on appropriate commercial recordings. In addition, music publishers finance and produce demo recordings, pitch songs for television shows, movies, and commercials, collect royalties, and issue licenses. Music publishers also register and enforce the copyrights they administer.

What is a Licensee?

A licensee is a person or business entity who has been granted a license to reproduce and distribute copyrighted musical works to the public for private use within the U.S. HFA licensees range from garage bands and religious organizations to record companies and online music services to ringtone companies and digital background music providers. Under U.S. Copyright law, in order to reproduce and distribute copyrighted musical works, users must obtain a proper license. HFA acts as the publisher's agent for mechanical licensing transactions.

What is copyright?

As stated on the U.S. Library of Congress website ( http://www.copyright.gov/):

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • To display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work;
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

 If you would like more detailed information about copyrights, the link above to the U.S. Copyright Office provides general information on copyright basics, copyright application forms and other copyright-related resources.

What is a mechanical license?

A mechanical license grants the rights to reproduce and distribute copyrighted musical compositions (songs) on phonorecords (i.e. CDs, records, tapes, and certain digital configurations). The Harry Fox Agency was established to license, collect, and distribute royalties on behalf of U.S. publishers that own and/or control the rights to musical compositions. Simply stated, if you want to record and distribute a song that was written by someone else, or if your business requires the distribution of music that was written by others, you must obtain a mechanical license.

Mechanical rights should not be confused with "master rights" that are granted by a record company in order to use an existing recording, or with "performance rights" that are granted by publishers or societies for the public performance of a song. Depending on the use, one may also have to obtain these rights in addition to the mechanical license.

The Harry Fox Agency issues mechanical licenses for phonorecords distributed in the United States (including territories and possessions) only.

How do I obtain a mechanical license?

If you would like to obtain a license to make and distribute less than 2,500 physical recordings or permanent digital downloads within the U.S., you do not need to set up an HFA Licensing Account. Please visit HFA Songfile to submit the appropriate mechanical licensing form.

If you are distributing more than 2,500 units or are interested in licensing other formats, click here.

What is a Compulsory Mechanical License and the Statutory Rate?

If a composition has already been commercially recorded and released to the general public, and you wish to record and distribute that composition yourself (and you are not the original songwriter), you can obtain a compulsory mechanical license. This is outlined in Section 115 of the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act. The Harry Fox Agency mechanical license is a written variation of the compulsory license. The royalty rate (what gets paid to the music publisher) is set by law and is known as the "statutory rate." For information on the current statutory rates, click here.

But I'm making only a few copies/giving the CDs away/not making much money. Isn't that "fair use"?

No. Making a limited number of copies or giving away CDs is not "Fair Use".  Unless you are creating recordings that are covered under the fair use section of the U.S. Copyright Act, you need to obtain licenses for your recordings regardless of whether or not your are selling them.

"Fair Use" is a limitation on the rights granted under U.S. Copyright Law that allows reproduction of a copyrighted work for certain purposes, such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research.  Fair use does not include small quantity recordings made for or by charity or religious organizations; nor does it exempt recordings that are distributed without charge.  The distinction between "Fair Use" and infringement is often not clear and it may be advisable to consult an attorney. Willful copyright infringement can carry statutory damages up to $150,000 per infringement, but perhaps more importantly, if you liked the song enough to include it on your recording, don't you think the people that wrote that song should get paid?

What are Master Use Rights?

Master use rights are required for previously recorded material that you do not own or control. The Harry Fox Agency does not process licenses for master use rights. Master use rights can only be obtained from the owner of the master recording, usually a record company. In order to expedite processing, we recommend that you obtain the master use license from the owner prior to requesting a mechanical license from The Harry Fox Agency.

What is a Sample?

A sample is typically the use of an excerpt of a sound recording embodying a copyrighted composition inserted in another sound recording. This process is often referred to as digital sampling and requires licenses for the use of the portion of the composition and the sound recording that was re-used in the new sound recording. In some instances, artists re-record the portion of the composition used in the new recording and, therefore, only need to obtain a license for the use of the sampled composition.

How do I obtain permission to use a sample?

HFA does not license samples. You will need to obtain permission directly from both the owner of the master recording (usually the record company) and the publisher.

Registered Users

This area is for registered users of HFA Songfile and HFA Online.

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