I am an indie game developer and I am doing a game similar to guitar hero. I am using tracks composed by musicians and I contacted them to sing a licensing contract. As is my first indie project I have no idea on how I should deal with the royalties aspect of this because each track as an ISRC code and each time a track is played in public there is a fee to pay to the "local" registration authority.

An iPhone game it is downloaded and not played on air (or physically distributed), and hence I think there is a specific legislation for this that specifies how much one should pay. I own some of the tracks composed and for this I think I won't have to pay a royalty (even if the track has an ISRC code) but for other tracks I just have a license "to use".

I wonder how a game like Guitar hero can sell on iPhone for as little as 0,99$ and then have "in app purchases" for packs of 3 songs (for about 2 dollars) and make a profit (I imagine they will have to pay a ISRC royalty).

Does anyone of you have any idea of this can work or if there is a section in this forum where I can ask this question? I understand is not about coding but I think is about development of a game in the broader sense.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Before anyone can attempt to answer this question, you need to supply more details. Specifically, at minimum: 1) which jurisdictions are relevant? 2) What does the contract you've signed with the artists say about royalties? \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Nov 5 '12 at 13:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, there's no specific section on this site, just putting the relevant flags as you did is enough. Questions that aren't about coding are very welcome. \$\endgroup\$ – Laurent Couvidou Nov 5 '12 at 13:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor I am based in the UK but I am collaborating with some musicians in the States, Italy and Austria. I will be selling the game via iTunes worldwide (ideally if possible) so I am not quiet sure which jurisdictions is the most relevant. I have at the moment only a contract draft and it specifies that the authors should not deposit the track on a ISRC agency. But I am looking into changing this because we are interested in selling the track as well on iTunes as mp3. I have contacted the PPL uk agency and they told me that if it is me registering the track then they won't charge me \$\endgroup\$ – mm24 Nov 5 '12 at 14:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have no idea how to answer this question, but I highly recommend you talk to an actual lawyer about this. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Danger Johnson Nov 5 '12 at 17:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I decided to contact a lawyer for additional support \$\endgroup\$ – mm24 Nov 6 '12 at 14:37

ISRC codes have little to do with royalties. The code merely identifies a track. Whether a track has a code or not, you still have to comply with copyright laws to use the track. Generally speaking the rates are not covered by legislation, but by agreements between broadcasters and music publishers.

Unless you wrote and recorded the songs, you do not 'own' any of the tracks. You may own a copy of a recording of them, but that doesn't give you a right to redistribute or broadcast them, which would prohibit you bundling them with your game or making them downloadable via your game.

Games like Guitar Hero work because they have come to financial agreements with publishers over use of the track. This may be via a synchronization licence or it might be via a separate deal. You are unlikely to be able to reach similar agreements with well-known artists. You may however be able to do so with individual musicians, especially unsigned ones, who do not have to clear copyright issues with their publisher.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you Kylotan. I have a drafted deal with some not known musician. I am looking into signing as label at PPL UK and deposit the tracks. Unfortunately I am also dealing with some rather know U.S. and Austrian musician, which have already deals with their publishers but have composed especially for me a track. This I hope and seem to understand should be enough to allow me to do a separate deal then (unless there is any restriction with their publisher, which in this case I should aks them to verify before signing the final deal). As said my main concern was and is that .. \$\endgroup\$ – mm24 Nov 5 '12 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...that it seems to me that in the UK the only way to get an ISRC code is to register the track at PPL and this implies that they will then collect royalties. \$\endgroup\$ – mm24 Nov 5 '12 at 14:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I still don't see the relevance of ISRC codes here. You're never forced to get them, and you don't need to join PPL to get one. You can get them from PPL without joining, or through 3rd parties (eg. CDBaby). They're just identifiers - royalty collection is a different matter. \$\endgroup\$ – Kylotan Nov 5 '12 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok thank you, I didn't know all of this. This helps and clarifies. \$\endgroup\$ – mm24 Nov 5 '12 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have been told today from PPL that I need to contact PRS for music in respect of any licence fees that may be due. I will update you all once they reply. prsformusic.com/Pages/default.aspx \$\endgroup\$ – mm24 Nov 20 '12 at 19:46

Here is the correct answer posted in a follow up question by Kylotan.

Please feel free to share your experience by adding other answers if there are other legal ways to do so. I think legislation might change in the near future providing easier ways to do deals with agencies. I have had to contact the headquarters of one of these agencies (EU country) and they will have to get back to me in two weeks and they said that they never dealt with this before. Instead the UK one proposed me those weird flat licenses that are no good if you want to get the app downloaded for free.


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