I'm curious how royalties are handled for orchestral compositions (e.g. symphonies, concerti, quartets, etc.) in modern times (20th Century and later).

For example, Dmitri Shostakovich's compositions are presumably still under copyright in Western Europe and the USA, since it's been less than 75 years since his death, and all his compositions were published after January 1, 1923.

(I'm picking Shostakovich in particular since I've grown fond of his symphonies, concerti, and other works in the past few years and have amassed a collection of CD's and digital downloads of many recordings and performances. His body of work would presumably fall under current copyright laws internationally, e.g. Berne Convention, etc. since all his compositions were published in the 20th Century.)

First example:

André Previn conducts a studio performance of Shostakovich's 8th Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra, recorded for EMI/Angel records. The record label releases the album for commercial sale.

  1. Does the composer receive any royalties from the sale of this recording?
  2. I'm assuming the record label collects mechanical royalties and profits from the sale of the album - do they usually give a flat fee or a percentage of sales (or both) to the orchestra?

Second example:

The Pacific Arts Trio (also featuring Previn) stages a performance of Shostakovich's Piano Trio, Op. 67. This performance is presumably for a paying audience, of which the trio is expected to earn some performance royalties as a "...life raft for the three of us."

  1. Does the composer receive any royalties from this particular performance? Or, from any contemporary public performance of his compositions still falling under copyright protection?
  2. If not from particular public performances, then is the composer's only source of royalties from publishing the written work (i.e. sheet music score)?

Please note that I'm using the present tense wherever I can here to inquire about how copyright protection and performance royalties work in the modern sense. I already have a pretty good idea (still unclear on some parts) how royalties work for contemporary popular rock/country/R&B music, etc.

  • Shostakovich may not be the best example because some of his works were actually treated as being in the public domain (in the USA) until the mid-90s. Congress then restored copyright on many foreign works to bring the USA into conformity with the Berne convention. The law was challenged in court but was eventually upheld in 2012. Commented Mar 22, 2021 at 12:13

1 Answer 1


All that has changed is the identity of the copyright holder which has passed on to other(s) through the relevant laws for inheritance. This would be no different if the composer had sold their rights during their lifetime.

Just like this only the other way around.

Many countries have statutory royalty schemes for music where the composer cannot prohibit recordings or broadcasting of their works and is paid a fixed amount per performance/play/sale.

To be clear: barring other contractual arrangements (for example, members of an orchestra are usually employees of the orchestra and copyright material they create belongs to their employer), the composer has copyright in the music, the lyricist has copyright in the lyrics and the performer(s) (musicians, conductor, sound technicians etc.) have copyright in the performance.

  • So, in simpler terms, is this similar to the "Happy Birthday to You" licensing scheme? (Recently invalidated since a judge declared that song to be public domain.) Does the performance ensemble (e.g. orchestra, rock band, etc.) have to license a public performance of a copyrighted work through the publishing company? I'd assume the publishing company pays the composer a residual every so often (memories of Two and a Half Men where Charlie received a "big fat residual check" and then blew it all in Las Vegas.) :-)
    – pr1268
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 20:14
  • 2
    @pr1268 there are copyright licencing collectives. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_copyright_collection_societies
    – user3851
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 23:23
  • 1
    @user3851 I know a few composers who are members of ASCAP. Apparently, ASCAP administers performing rights for at least some of Shostakovich's music; see ascap.com/restored_works.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 21:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .