Mechanical Licensing Collective: How to Register and Why It's Important

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The who, what and how for musicians and publishers looking to utilize the MLC.

In Oct. 2018, the landmark Music Modernization Act (MMA) was signed into law by President Donald Trump following a years-long push by musician advocates and several U.S. lawmakers. Among other things, the bill established a new blanket mechanical license for digital mechanical royalties, which will be exclusively administered by the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), the nonprofit organization designated by the U.S. Copyright Office to take on that role.

The MLC, which officially launched operations on Jan. 1, 2021, is on track to begin paying out royalties from roughly 50 digital services providers [DSPs] including Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora in mid-to-late April. With roughly two months to go, the organization is now strongly encouraging all musical rights holders to register their works via the MLC website to ensure they get paid.

How much in unpaid royalties is out there? The organization has already received over $424 million in accrued unmatched royalties from those DSPs, it was announced on Feb. 16.

"Because the MLC is the single, central administrator for all of the activity that is paid through that blanket license, that registration will ensure that you are paid properly in connection with all of the DSPs [digital service providers] that are operating under the blanket," MLC CEO Kris Ahrend tells Billboard. "Whereas in the past, you might have to register your work in several places, sometimes with the individual DSP or sometimes with the vendor they had chosen. We'll be a one-stop shop for that registration."

Ahrend adds that registration is free, the royalty payment schedule will occur monthly and that 100% of royalties collected by the MLC goes to music creators, thanks to an MMA clause that requires the DSPs to fund all operating costs of the organization.

Billboard recently connected with Ahrend to discuss all practical considerations concerning the MLC for rights holders, including who needs to sign up, how works should be registered, what resources are available for those who require assistance and more.

Who needs to sign up:

Bottom line: Any individual or organization with a stake in one or more musical works available on digital audio services in the U.S. needs to register with the MLC. That includes U.S. publishers, administrators and collective management organizations who collect mechanicals for themselves and/or on behalf of songwriters; any non-U.S. organization that represents musical works with distribution in the U.S. market; and self-administered songwriters and musicians.

"Quite simply, if you have an interest in receiving mechanicals for a musical work, and it is not registered with us, then we can't pay," says Ahrend.

How to sign up:

To register as a member, rights holders should visit the MLC website and click "Connect to Collect," which appears as a blue button at the top right of the home page. Once the button is clicked, users will be prompted to create a username and password in order to access the MLC portal.

Once the user account is established, rights holders must also set up a member profile in order to get paid, using either the name of the publishing company or, for self-administered songwriters, their name or the name of the publishing entity they have set up for themselves.
To avoid confusion, Ahrend is quick to stress the distinction between user profiles and member profiles. In summary: The user profile simply provides an individual or company representative access to the MLC portal. By contrast, the member profile contains a company or individual's financial information and allows them to register musical works in the database, among other things.

Once the member profile has been established, rights holders can click on "member login" at the top right of the MLC home page at any time to access their account and begin registering works.

How to register a work:

Upon logging into the MLC portal for the first time, members will be automatically prompted to search the MLC database to see which of their musical works have already been added. Ahrend points out that many works have already been registered via the Harry Fox Agency's (HFA) pre-existing database, which includes the majority of commercially successful music released over the years. Even if a work is already there, members should still check to ensure that their share of the work is reflected.

If a musical work isn't yet included in the database, there are three ways to register it:

  1. Via the MLC's "registration wizard," which prompts members to answer a series of questions about the work they'd like to add. The registration wizard won't only ask for information about a work, but also explain what that information is, simplifying the process for those who are unfamiliar with it. "So if they're not familiar with an IPI number, for example, it'll explain that," Ahrend says.
  2. For a member with multiple works to enter, the MLC also includes a bulk upload feature, which provides an Excel template demonstrating how to properly enter details about a work into a spreadsheet. Members then upload the spreadsheet into the portal, which automatically enters the information provided into a series of draft registrations that can be reviewed and finalized (members will be automatically prompted to add any missing information) before they are formally submitted.
  3. Finally, more seasoned publishing professionals can register works by simply submitting a traditional Common Works Registration (CWR) form to the MLC.

Members who wish to cross-reference their own data with the MLC's data for a work already in the database can also take advantage of the organization's data quality initiative, which allows them to submit a comparison and receive a report detailing any discrepancies within 24 hours.

What happens next: 

Once a musical work has been submitted, the MLC double checks the data while also ensuring it wasn't previously registered. If it was, the MLC will simply connect the new registration with the pre-existing registration, essentially merging them into a single entry. Lastly, the organization will vet the submission to rule out fraudulent activity. This process can take anywhere from days to weeks, depending on how many works a member has submitted.

After a work has been submitted, members can continually check on its status through the member portal. Once the work has been added, the submission will be moved into a column marked "Accepted."

Support options: 

While the MLC has set up the registration process to ensure ease of use, the organization understands that rights holders, particularly self-administered ones, may find the process confusing at times.

To account for that, the MLC has established a support team, on hand to answer basic questions and also to help with any disputes over credit (more official policies to deal with these disputes will be instituted over time, Ahrend says). Already fielding hundreds of inquiries per week, members of the support team are available between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays via phone, email or a chat window in the member portal.

"All of this is both straightforward and complicated, and we know that," Ahrend says. "And we know that for many people, especially creators, this is not the thing that they focus on day in and day out."