Music and the Internet

Is there money waiting for you?

Volume CIX, No. 1January, 2009

Mikael Elsila

If you’re listening to the radio and you hear a tune that you played backup on, do you get any kind of royalty? The answer, for now, is a big, fat “no.” Only the copyright holder of a song — like the songwriter or the music publisher — gets a piece of the action under current copyright law. (As regular Allegro readers know, the AFM and Local 802 are fighting to change that law. But that’s another story.)

However, what if you’re online?

If you’re listening to or any other Internet radio station or Webcaster and you hear your music coming out of your computer, then in fact you may be entitled to a payment. This is true even if you played backup. 

Here’s how it works. Thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, anytime a Webcaster plays a piece of music, the Web site’s owner must pay a certain amount into a fund called SoundExchange. (The exact amount is regulated by the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board.)

SoundExchange then pays a percentage of this money according to a formula:

  • 50 percent goes to the copyright owner of the recording. Often, the record label has assumed copyright on a song and the money goes to the label.
  • 45 percent goes directly to the featured artist. (For instance, Britney Spears or Madonna would be considered featured artists.)
  • 2.5 percent goes to the backup musicians.
  • 2.5 percent goes to the backup vocalists.

If you played backup, then your money gets routed from SoundExchange to another entity, called the AFM & AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund. This is the fund that pays you.

How do you know if you have money waiting for you? Go to Click on “Royalty Funds” from the small, upper green menus on the home page. Next, scroll all the way to the bottom. Click on “Unclaimed Royalties.” Look for your name on the list. If it’s there, fill out the online form.

To find out more money that may be owed to you, click here