You get paid royalties if you own the rights to something, whether that’s a physical asset, a song, even a name, and someone else wants to use it commercially. If someone else is making money off of something that’s yours, you are probably owed money for it. But it’s not as cut and dry as it sounds and sometimes there are some very bizarre rules over what does and doesn’t qualify for royalties. There are many people out there paying or get paid for very unexpected reasons.
10. Finnish Cabbies Have to Pay Royalties for Songs on Their Radios
Cab drivers exist in just about every city in the world. If a place is big enough people will always need to get around so someone can always make a living by driving them. But there are plenty of rules and regulations about how this has to work and those rules can vary from one place to another.
Finland has one of the most obscure and unusual rules that cabbies have to abide by. They are required to pay royalties for the songs that play in their cabs because, strictly speaking, they make money while music is playing in the car.
A court ruling in 2002 applied to all cabbies in the country. If they turn on the radio in the presence of a customer, then they need to pay for the music that plays. Music in a cab is a public performance at that point, and subject to such fees.
It wasn’t a ton of money and it wasn’t like the cabbies had to write down what song played when. Instead, they were tasked with paying a yearly fee of just £14 to the Finnish Composers’ Copyright Society. Cabbies are, of course, free to keep the radio off and not pay anything.
9. Alice Cooper Pays His Band Royalties to Use The Name
Alice Cooper spent decades as an icon of rock. One of the earliest performers to blend horror esthetic and showmanship with his music he’s something of a founder of the whole “shock rock” genre which led to acts like Marilyn Manson, Slipknot and Gwar among many others. He’s a trailblazer is what he is. He also pays for his name.
Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier though he legally changed his name to Alice Cooper in 1975. The story of the name was shared by Cooper in a book in which he claimed the story of a medium using a Ouija board to spell it out, which is the popular myth, was untrue. Instead, it was just a random name that popped into his head that he felt would conjure confusing imagery for fans because the band was all men. The name was not his; it was the band’s.
As the frontman, he became known as Alice Cooper even though that wasn’t precisely the intent. But he went with it and, as a result, pays yearly royalties to the rest of the band to use the name because it belonged to all of them.
8. Everyone Who Uses HDMI Pays Royalties for the Technology
When it comes to plugging in video peripherals these days, you need to use an HDMI cable. It’s what DVD, Blu-ray, video game consoles and everything else use and it gives you some high-quality video and audio. It’s also proprietary, and that means people pay royalties to one company to use it.
The name HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface, which is trademarked. Anyone who wants to use HDMI has to pay a yearly fee to HDMI for adopting it. That was a $10,000 base fee plus $0.15 per unit sold unless they clearly use the HDMI logo, then the price drops to a nickel.
If a company makes less than 10,000 units of whatever they’re selling, they can opt for a different plan to save some money. But whatever the case, if it’s your Xbox or just a cable you pick up loose, if it says HDMI on it, that company paid a royalty fee.
7. Climbers Have to Pay Royalties to Nepal to Climb Everest
If you’re the adventurous type, you may have an incline to one day live the ultimate adventure and climb Mount Everest. And why not, it’s a big accomplishment. It’s also not very cheap.
If you’re not a Nepalese citizen, the government of Nepal is going to need you to pay royalties to climb their mountain. This varies by season but if you decide to go up in the Spring, as most climbers do, then you’re looking at an $11,000 royalty payment. You’ll also be asked to provide a $4,000 garbage management fee which you can have refunded if you bring enough trash back down with you.
In 2023, that fee faced a proposed increase to $15,000 in an effort to control the numbers because people keep going up there and dying. The new fee will go into effect in 2025.
6. DC Pays Much Bigger Royalties to Comics Creators Than Marvel
If you follow comic book news, this one may not be a surprise to you but it might be to the casual movie fan. It’s no secret comic book movies are huge business and they make literal billions of dollars. Many of those movies are based on whole storylines that were first printed in the comics. All the characters are, of course, from the comics as well. So do the writers or artists behind Deadpool and Thanos and Joker get their piece of the pie? Not as much as you’d think.
Jim Starlin, for instance, is credited with creating Thanos, the huge villain from the MCU’s long and elaborate film series. He also created Gamora and Drax. Starlin never said what Disney paid him for putting his creations in so many films but it has been confirmed by several sources that Marvel/Disney give the comics creators $5000 and a ticket to the movie premier.
Contrast that with Starlin’s admission that DC also paid him for the use of the character KGBeast in the Batman v Superman movie and they paid him substantially more. If you don’t remember KGBeast it’s because in the movie he was just a regular guy and they never called him by that name. But DC still paid for him, meaning DC pays significantly higher royalties for even minor characters that Marvel does for major ones. How much more? According to Starlin, more than all the Marvel movies combined.
5. Marvel Got Paid Royalties Every Time Hulk Hogan Wrestled
Speaking of comic book royalties, let’s look at the Hulk. The Incredible Hulk debuted in 1962, one of Marvel comics’ oldest characters appearing before the X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and many others. The name Hulk became synonymous with the big green monster forever afterwards. But there was another pop culture hulk most of us remember, too. Hulk Hogan.
Although hulk is a perfectly normal noun that refers to anything large and unwieldy you can’t just call yourself Hulk and be a big, muscular dude at the same time. Marvel comics owns the big, muscley Hulk. So, for 20 years, Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, paid royalties to Marvel comics to use his stage name.
Hogan had appeared in a promotional photo with Lou Ferrigno back in the 70s when Ferrigno played the Incredible Hulk on TV. Someone made the joke that Hogan, taller and more muscular, was the real Hulk. The nickname stuck, and he carried it through a few wrestling promotions until the WWE (then WWF) signed him.
Hogan was an instant star, and the WWF was just becoming the biggest, and only, name in wrestling for most people. They kept introducing him as the Incredible Hulk Hogan and by the time they were drawing crowds to Madison Square Garden, Marvel stepped in.
Hogan had to drop “incredible” and, from then on, Marvel got $100 for every match he wrestled. For 20 years. They also got a small portion of all Hulk merchandise. The deal likely made Marvel millions.
4. Warner Paid Royalties to John Hinckley for a Devo Song
Sometimes paying royalties makes perfect sense, like if a musician uses a sample of someone else’s work in a song. That happened to the band Devo and Warner, their label, had to pay when the band used a sample of poetry in a song. But it’s the “who” that makes it a little more off-putting in this case. They used the words of John Hinckley, the man most famous for trying to assassinate Ronald Reagan. And Warner had to pay.
The song I Desire came out in 1982, a year after Hinckley tried to kill the President. He had also infamously written love poems to Jodie Foster, and it was one of those poems Devo sampled for their song. The band asked him if they could use it and he said yes. Thus, he was a co-writer of the song. But Warner didn’t know until it was too late.
In 2021, Hickley said on Twitter that he hadn’t been paid in decades.
3. The Seattle Space Needle is Trademarked And You Need To Pay to Use It
A lot of cities have something that stands out on the skyline to make them easily identifiable. For Seattle, it’s the Space Needle. But you can’t go off and use the image of the Space Needle all willy-nilly if you’re trying to promote something in the city. The building is a trademark and you need to pay royalties for its likeness.
In 2022, a coffee chain was sued by the company that owns the Space Needle for trademark infringement but the two companies came to a settlement.
If you want to use an image of the Seattle skyline for anything commercial, Getty Images points out that you cannot do so if the key feature is the Space Needle. Even the name “Space Needle” is protected and the company will ask anyone using it commercially to change it when it comes to their attention. You can go to the Space Needle website and fill out a form if you wish to use the image, however.
2. Alaskan Residents Get a Yearly Oil Royalty Check
If you like free money, but not a lot of free money, consider moving to Alaska. Residents of the state are given a yearly royalty check just for living in a state that’s full of oil. In 2023, Alaskans were issued a $1,312 check as their portion of the state’s oil fund. The year before it was over $3,000.
The money changes from year to year and apparently it’s an absolute nightmare of political red tape as the government has to decide how to allocate the funds through the year to cover all kinds of unrelated things like education or transportation when there are shortfalls in those budgets. But all of that aside, there’s always something for the people of Alaska, whatever the politicians end up deciding, and it’s unique to the state.
1. The US Had to Pay Royalties to Germany for the Springfield Rifle
There’s a lot of business that goes into war and many people make money off of it. That’s more of a modern realization and not something everyone was concerned with back in the day. But maybe they should have been. After all, it looks like the US was paying royalties to Germany for rifles based on the German Mauser. And they were paying them during WWI.
The Mauser 98 is arguably the most famous rifle ever made. Between 91 and 125 million have been made and countries around the world copied the design for their own. This included the United States. Because of this, governments were paying royalties to Germany for the design.
The US had worked out an agreement in 1905 to pay $0.75 per rifle plus $0.50 per thousand clips to a maximum of $200,000. Later, the Springfield M1903 would try to duplicate the Mauser design but tweak a few elements to avoid royalties, which failed in the long run. The US ended up paying a number of penalties and fees to Germany even after the First World War began, while the US was still neutral.