A mechanical reproduction license only permits you to make and distribute copies of a song, including a musical arrangement of the song, as embodied in a “sound recording.” It does not permit you to make physical or digital copies of the musical arrangement in music notation for any purpose, including the printing of copies or digital dissemination of the musical notation containing the arrangement for the purpose of making the recording, for resale, or even to facilitate a public performance of the song. The term “musical arrangement” is not synonymous with “sheet music” (whether digital or physical music notation).
If you wish to print or make copies of a musical arrangement, whether you made the arrangement for inclusion in a sound recording or not, you must get an additional license: a “Custom Arrangement License,” which can be easily obtained from a licensing agent like Tresona.
In order to legally record a copyrighted song in the U.S., and make and distribute copies of the song as part of a sound recording, you must obtain a mechanical reproduction license (“mechanical license”).
The U.S. Copyright Act allows you to compel a copyright owner to give you a license to do so if you carefully comply with certain regulatory procedures, but most mechanical licenses are more easily obtained either through an organization like the Harry Fox Agency or directly from the song’s music publisher.
These voluntary mechanical licenses are granted on virtually the same terms as the statutory compulsory license, which is described in Section 115 of the Copyright Act.
Each mechanical license tells you what you can do and what you can’t do with the song.
For example, the mechanical license allows you to record, make and distribute the song as part of a “sound recording.” It does not allow you to record, make or distribute the song as part of an “audiovisual work,” a printed work (such as, sheet music), or any other kind of work (such as, a book or a computer program).
To make this clear, the Copyright Act states that the mechanical license only allows you “to make and distribute phonorecords of the work” and that one may obtain one “only if his or her primary purpose in making phonorecords is to distribute them to the public for private use….”
The mechanical license “includes the privilege of making a musical arrangement” of the song, but
And even then, you cannot get copyright protection for the arrangement without the express consent of the copyright owner.
Note: The term “musical arrangement" is not synonymous with the term “sheet music.” Just because your mechanical license permits you to make a musical arrangement for inclusion in a sound recording, it does not mean you have the right to create digital notation and or print sheet music of the arrangement for dissemination in any manner. For that, you would require a Custom Arrangement License.
1. Suppose Adele wishes to record a version of the Bob Dylan composition “Make You Feel My Love.” For her recording, Adele creates a new arrangement of the song with different voicing and instrumentation, but which does not change the basic melody or fundamental character of the song. Because the musicians in Adele's band are professional and the song is relatively simple, the musicians can simply play the song without needing to create physical or digital sheet music of the arrangement Adele will perform.
Under her mechanical license, Adele:
2. Suppose the musical director of a choir wishes to make a recording of "Can't Stop The Feeling," written by Max Martin, Shellback, and Justin Timberlake and arranged by Mac Huff, and the choir director obtains the proper number of octavos as published by Hal Leonard so that he has appropriate copies of the sheet music to give to each member of the choir. During the recording, the choir director tells the members of the choir that he would like them to repeat the last chorus twice.
3. Suppose the musical director of a choir makes his own custom musical arrangement of the song or hires a professional arranger to do so. He then obtains a mechanical license to make a sound recording of the song.
The bottom line is: the mechanical license is solely a vehicle for the production and distribution of sound recordings. It does not grant you permission to print physical notation of the arrangement or create digital notation or sheet music of the arrangement, whether or not embodied in the sound recording. For this, one would require a Custom Arrangement License, like the one issued by Tresóna. If one is making a recording, and one finds that the recording cannot be made without creating physical or digital sheet music of the "musical arrangement" being recorded, then one must seek additional permission, beyond the mechanical license, to create that sheet music.