File under: Licensing , Music Industry

Sync Licensing Basics: Part 3

Music is a key element of any piece of media, but is usually the last piece of a television show, movie, advertisement, or video game to fall into place.  Time constraints and budget concerns make the process tricky to navigate. However, music can make or break a project; it sets the mood and tone of scenes in our movies and shows.  It heightens the anticipation of tense moments, evokes an emotional response in tender scenes, and can influence our perception of media in ways no script, production team, or lighting designer can.  Music speaks to us on a profound level, so it’s important to match the right music to the content. A properly structured music licensing deal is an important piece of the production puzzle.

This is Part 3 of a 3 part series. See Part 1 and Part 2.

Music Licensing FAQ

Why do I need a license?  Simply put, “The right to perform or play a song in public is one of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder,” and you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder in order to legally perform or broadcast the work.  Music licensing allows artists to be paid when their work is played or performed publicly, which in turn allows them to create music.  You can also be sued for improper usage of someone else’s copyrighted material without their consent, so it’s important to comply with all licensing requirements from the beginning.  

What services to PROs provide to businesses?  Music licenses through a PRO offer copyright clearance to use any music in the organization’s repertoire in a variety of ways.  This can save time and expense over going to individual artists and composers to obtain licensing for individual works. There are also music placement companies that offer a more specialized approach.  While some offer large catalogs with a wide variety of artists, others are more focused and aggressively push a select artist or group of artists.  

It should be noted that podcasts do not qualify as public performances, and are therefore not covered by many blanket license agreements.  “By their very nature, podcasts are meant to be downloaded, which implicates other rights under copyright law.”  It is therefore crucial to ensure that your licensing agreement allows use in podcasts specifically, as this use is not included in most blanket licensing agreements.   

What happens to the fees that businesses pay, and how much profit to PROs make?  PROs tend to be run like non-profit companies, giving out the entirety of what they are paid less operating costs to the copyright holders of the music.  Your money goes to support artists and composers so that they can continue to do their work.

If musicians are playing live music, aren’t they responsible for public performance fees?  While the musicians may be performing, the business or organization that is benefitting from their performance is ultimately responsible for ensuring that music is correctly licensed.  Even if the musicians are independent contractors, this responsibility cannot be abdicated.

I bought my own MP3 files, CDs, or tapes.  Doesn’t that mean they’re my property to use as I see fit?  While most people buy audio files, music, or games thinking that they are their property, there is a legal distinction between owning a copy of the media and owning the rights to the media itself.  When you buy an audio file, game, or CD, the purchase price only covers private listening use. It does not extend to public performance. To legally use the media in question, you will need to obtain licensing rights for any public performance.  

Does a business need a license if they only play original music?  The short answer is, it depends on who owns the rights to the music.  Part of the reason that PROs exist is to help aid up-and-coming musicians in getting support for their work.  It is likely that most “original compositions” will need to be licensed in some capacity and it is your responsibility to find out what licensing is required.    

Navigating the field of possibilities when pursuing a music licensing agreement can be daunting.  To get the best results, be thorough in your research, get all your options in order when reaching an agreement, be timely in your payments, and avoid improper usage.  Be sure to clear both master and sync rights when necessary, and be sure to get the sync rights for any compositions you will be re-recording. If working within the public domain, make every effort to prove that the work is indeed public domain.  Speak to an agent or music supervisor to determine what kind of licensing agreement best suits your purposes, or apply online at many PROs.

Licensing Sync Licensing