A compulsory license is a type of mechanical license that permits a licensee to reproduce and distribute a musical work without securing permission directly from the copyright owner as long as the licensee follows the process and guidelines as stipulated in Section 115 of the US Copyright Act (see below). The purpose of a compulsory license is to minimize transactional costs for using phonorecords (sound recordings) and to foster artistic creativity by allowing licensees to use previously published musical works – for example, a recording artist creating a cover version of a popular song.  


Under Section 115 of the U.S. Copyright Act, if a work has already been recorded and commercially released, an artist can record and distribute the work without getting permission directly from the copyright owner if they follow the correct legal process. This process includes a Notice of Intent being sent to the copyright owner, along with the compulsory license royalty that is set by the U.S. Copyright Office. More information on securing a compulsory license may be found by researching online.


Compulsory licenses only apply to sound recordings that are distributed to the public such as CDs, vinyl records, permanent downloads and interactive streams. For example, a compulsory license cannot be used to record a work for a TV show soundtrack.  


You don't need a compulsory license if: 

  • You are recording and distributing a song you wrote yourself, and you haven't assigned the publishing to another party. 
  • The song is in the public domain.