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What is a PRO? Performing Rights Organization Overview

If you have ever written a song or thought of writing a song, you may have heard of "PROs" or Performing Rights Organizations like BMI, ASCAP, etc.

You might have wonder what the hell is a PRO?

In today's blog post, we're gonna answer all your question regarding PROs.

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and we're not lawyers. This article is for educational purposes only. Please refer to your country's laws regarding copyright and performing rights.

Photo by Edward Eyer from Pexels

What is a PRO?

A PRO or a Performing Rights Organisation is an organization that monitors public performances of music and collects royalties on behalf of composers/songwriters and publishers. In short, whenever a song is performed publically - live performance or recording, the songwriters and publishers are paid royalties for that.

What is a public performance?

Whenever a song is played on public venues (like restaurants, bars, etc.), radio, television, or any commercial, it is known as a "Public Performance". It is not mandatory for a performance to be 'live' to be considered as a "performance". Usage of recordings for any of the above-mentioned purposes is also considered as a "Public Performance".

According to the U.S. Copyright Act, performance is public when it is made to a gathering of a substantial number of people who are outside the performer's circle of family and friends. So, if you're just playing for some of your friends or relatives, it may not be considered a public performance

Some examples to help understand "Public Performace":

  • Do streaming a song on Spotify/Radio/TV considered a "Public Performance"?

If you're the only one listening to the song or if you're listening to the song with your friends/family, it may not be considered a public performance. However, if you're streaming the song in a public venue like restaurants, bars, weddings, concerts, etc., it is considered a public performance.

  • Do live performances/covers considered a public performance?

If the performance is done at a public venue (or for people outside the performer's circle), it is considered a public performance.

Note: Make sure that you check your country's laws regarding "Public Performance".

How do PROs pay songwriters?

Now, you might be wondering how PRO collects the royalties and distributes them to the songwriters/publisher?

Generally, PROs issue a blanket license to every music user, and then, the user provides the data regarding the usage of music.

PROs track radio, TV, and digital performances using the data provided by music users.

In places like small restaurants, bars, venues, etc. where it's very hard to track data, PROs use other methods like polling to collect data. Using this data, they calculate the number of royalties and distribute them to songwriters.

Note: Visit different PRO's websites to learn more about how they collect and distribute royalties.

Who can join a PRO?

Legally, any songwriter who has written at least one song can join a PRO. However, some PROs may have some restrictions on membership like membership fees, resident status, etc.

For example, any songwriter in the world who has written a song or is going to write a song can join BMI for free. The only requirement is that you should have a valid e-mail address and if you're a minor, you should have a custodial trust bank account in an established U.S. bank. While if you want to join ASCAP, you need to pay a one-time membership fee and have to be a U.S. resident.

Note: Check your country's laws regarding performing rights organizations before joining a PRO.

Which PRO can you join?

You can join any PRO depending on your country's laws and PRO's terms and conditions.

However, you should note that one songwriter or publisher can only join one PRO at a time. Anyone cannot be a member of more than one PRO at a time.

Most artists join their home country's PRO. For example, U.S. residents prefer joining ASCAP or BMI, most Indian residents prefer joining IPRS, Canadians prefer joining SOCAN, etc.

However, you're not restricted to your own country's PROs only. You can join any PRO in the world as long as you're not a member of any other PRO (Note: Please check your country's laws for this).

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