Obtaining Music Rights    

This section presents common licenses that are needed to avoid copyright infringement. Locating copyright owners will be covered in an upcoming article.

Why License Music?
Over the last decade or so, technology has made it very easy and inexpensive for the average user to make or obtain near perfect copies of musical works and re-distribute them throughout the world in a matter of minutes. While it is difficult (or impossible) for copyright owners to pursue every individual that infringe upon their works, it often makes for a very easy court decisions when copyright owners do sue for infringement. For example, decisions against Napster and are clear victories for copyright owners. While these cases targeted corporate infringement, individuals can be sued for infringement as easily as corporations can. (See Copyright Basics Section). While it was rare in the past for individuals to be individually targeted for copyright infringement, the trend is increasing.

What are Typical Licenses?
Licensing music typically involves many aspects covered either directly or indirectly under copyright law.

1. Musical Composition. The musical composition consists of the lyrics and music that make up the song on paper before it is recorded to a physical medium. It is the artistic work that is copyrighted typically by the composer and lyricist. (It is common for these rights to be transferred to the record company or to be written as a work-for-hire.)

2. Sound Recording. A sound recording license refers to the actual recording itself that is the actual notes, sounds and music that has been embodied on the physical recording. For example, there may be multiple sound recordings for a musical composition - a live version and a studio recorded version. Each of these versions requires a different sound recording license if both versions are to be used, such as in a webcast. Sound recordings may be owned by the artist, producer or record company. The owner of the sound recording has a (P) on the label of the CD.

3. Broadcast/Webcast. A broadcast license is required for television, radio and Internet broadcasts for copyrighted works. The license is required regardless of whether money is generated as a result of the broadcasts or not. Broadcast licenses are obtained from one of the performance agencies.

4. Public Performance. Because public performances are one of the core rights granted under copyright law, any such performance requires a license from the copyright owner or their designated agent (performance agency).


5. Distribution. If a copyrighted work has been previously legally distributed in the U.S., copyright law allows for others to re-distribute the work after a compulsory license has been obtained. This is known as a mechanical license and is available through the Harry Fox Agency.

6. Synchronization. A synchronization license is required whenever a sound recording is used in conjunction with a visual work. It does not matter if the production is for television, a streaming project on the Internet, corporate video, or other some other project where a product is distributed. When music is "synced" to video, a synchronization license is required. Sync licenses are granted by the owners of the sound recording or their assigned agent (often a service provided by the Harry Fox Agency).

Licensing Organizations
ASCAP - New York
One Lincoln Plaza
New York, NY 10023
Tel: (212) 621-6000
Fax: (212) 724-9064

BMI - New York
320 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019-3790
(212) 586-2000

55 Music Square East
Nashville, TN 37203
Fax 615-329-9627

Harry Fox Agency (HFA)
711 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Tel: 212-370-5330
Fax: 212-953-2384

Links to Common Licensing Forms
ASCAP Blanket Radio License
ASCAP Internet License
BMI Corporate
BMI Radio License
BMI Website License
HFA Mechanical License
SESAC Internet License
SESAC Radio License
Synchronization License, Basic
Synchronization License - Commercials
Synchronization License - Corporate
Synchronization License - Video/Film
Synchronization License - TV

(The information presented on this page is based on information freely available on the Internet and should not be considered a substitute for legal advice.)