Thing is, it’s a term that is used a lot but few people actually know what it means.
On the surface it sounds ideal, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see that it’s often something of a false target to try and reach in the first place for games, and in some cases could act against you.
What’s The Difference Between A Stock Audio Site And A Royalty Free Music Library?
Well, there are back end royalties which are due to be paid to performing rights organisations (PROs) by film/TV/internet broadcasters whenever music is played on the TV, radio or internet, or indeed in shops or bars.
Usually a composer will register with a PRO in order to receive these royalties.
So theoretically those libraries who claim to be ‘royalty free’ have composers on their books who aren’t registered with those PROs and so their songs would be exempt or royalty free.
But, the above is a subtle point and I doubt many of these library sites have even thought about this when they pay their Google AdWords fees bidding for the search term ‘royalty free music’. I know for a fact that some of the libraries that show up in these search results aren’t royalty free. I know this because I have signed some of my music over to those sites in the past.
How Is All This Applicable To Game Developers?
Good question. Well, the answer is these performance royalties largely aren’t applicable to most games anyway as the music isn’t being ‘broadcast’. So is that the end of this article?
Not really. That’s the case if you are selling your game directly to a consumer in an app or via pc or console. But if you are launching a game playable on the internet for example, then ‘royalty free’ would be of interest to you as your game would be classed as being broadcast, and you as the game developer, are the ‘broadcaster’and would be liable to pay those performance royalties to the PROs.
Whether in practice everyone who makes a browser based game applies for a performance licence I’ll leave to your imagination, but in theory they should.
What About YouTube?
You’re right to mention that. Every time you post an update to your YouTube channel with music in the background, that is a broadcast, and a performance fee might be due to the writer and publisher. N.B. There’s always two rights whenever you use a piece of music – the recording (or master) right and the publishing/composer (or sync) right).
You may have tried to upload a video containing existing music onto your YouTube channel and had a copyright warning pop up? This is YouTube’s magic audio algorithms matching what you just tried to upload against it’s database and deciding someone else actually owns the music rights.
The good news is that in the case of YouTube, these back end/performance royalties aren’t something you will have to pay as the YouTube user/uploader, because YouTube (the broadcaster) is liable.
As A Game Developer, Why Should You Care About Any Of This Then?
Well, this gets interesting for a game developer. If you are clocking up thousands and thousands of views on your YouTube channel, potentially there is a performance royalty due to the composer and the publisher.
If as the game developer you’ve commissioned original music for your game, and you uploaded music to YouTube, and if your composer is a member of a PRO, then he should be able to collect those royalties without any financial liability to the game developer. Hooray!
But did you notice I also mentioned a publisher above? The game developer who commissioned the music to be written is effectively the music publisher in this case, and registering with a PRO should entitle the game dev to receive those royalties too, as the publisher. Hooray again!
This may not be worth it if your YouTube channel is only marginally popular, but if your game is getting some good attention on YouTube it’s definitely worth investigating as you (and your composer) could be missing out on income.
Each country will have it’s own PRO(s) – for example, in the US there is ASCAP and BMI and in the UK there is the PRS. Your country will have a local version, and they nearly all have reciprocal deals with other countries to aid in royalty collection worldwide.
Have a look on the PROs sites, speak to them and see if it’s worth you joining as a music publisher.
There is a very good article written on Gamasutra about the subject of performance royalties which you might like to check out for further reading.
Let me know if anything is unclear and I’ll do my best to help.