Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Who Is Harry Fox and Why Do I Have to Pay Him?

Every now and then I get asked the question “Who is Harry Fox and why do I have to pay him if I want to put out an album?”

That’s a good question. The Harry Fox Agency is a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Music Publisher’s Association, responsible for issuing mechanical licenses and collecting mechanical royalties for over 10,000 music publishers in the United States. Many publishers appreciate using the organization because they also regularly audit major labels on behalf of their members. In other words, if you want a mechanical license, which you must have in order to record someone else’s song, you generally have to go through the Harry Fox Agency.

While applying for a mechanical license and complying with the quarterly accountings used to be a cumbersome process, a few years ago Harry Fox created an internet-based service called “Song File,” which allows a potential licensee to “purchase” a license for a certain number of discs and/or downloads online in a one-stop process.

All of this is interesting but it still does not answer the question “Who is (or was) Harry Fox?” I have not been able to ascertain much information on him except that he was an employee of the National Music Publishers Association, who, in 1938, was charged with the responsibility of issuing licenses and collecting mechanical royalties. Apparently Mr. Fox passed away in 1969 and the agency was re-named in his honor. (Poe, A Songwriter’s Guide to Music Publishing, Revised Edition, 1997). However, he is not to be confused with the vaudeville entertainer of the same name who is credited with inventing the Fox Trot.

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