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I am currently in the process of creating an online radio. We are almost done and ready to kick off. The radio is based on artists coming to us and sending/uploading their songs for them to be played on the radio. The last step before approving the song is a screen that asks them:

  • to certify that they own all rights to their song;
  • to certify that we will not pay any royalties to them.

We would like the radio to be accessible on the web, world-wide. Do we have to get a license with BMI, ASCAP, SACEM... even though we are not using their songs, and if we do we have the permission of the artist?

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  • If you are almost done and ready to kick off then you are probably overdue to have had a conversation with (or to have retained) a lawyer who works in this area of law.
    – phoog
    Jan 10, 2016 at 15:56

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One thing that's important to understand is that you MAY have more than just the artist to deal with, in certain circumstances. If the artist is on a label, it's very possible that the label, and a publisher, are also in the game. If the artist is not the songwriter, then the songwriter, and her publisher, are also "in the game."

However, absent all that, where the artist/author actually owns all the rights to the song and the recording of the song...then your agreement with that artist/author supercedes anything with SESAC/BMI/ASCAP, etc.

In my previous life as a web-collaboration-based website admin, we had an agreement with our songwriters that granted a non-exclusive, year-long auto-re-upped agreement that the songs on our site were licensed. If the author wanted the song taken down for whatever reason, we had a mechanism for that. Songwriters retained all rights. The so-called "standard" agreements with the performance rights societies is boilerplate default, which can be overridden by straight between-parties agreements.

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Providing that you have permission of all the copyright holders then this is fine but ... a lot of people own copyright in a song:

  • The composer has copyright in the music
  • The lyricist has copyright in the words
  • The performers (each and every one of them) has copyright in their performances
  • The sound technician has copyright in the arrangement
  • etc.

Many of these copyrights will have been transferred by contract to other people within and without the original group like managers, studios, labels etc.

Hire a lawyer and pay for good advice

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