How To Use Music Legally In Your Work

When do I need a license to use music in my work?
You need to acquire a license when you want to take music that you have not personally created and use it as background music soundtrack in your production. Acquiring a license gives you the legal right to include someone else’s copyrighted work as a part of your own work.

What is a Copyright?
Copyright is a federal law that protects creators by giving them exclusive rights to their works for a period of time. Once a work is under copyright, it is considered copyright infringement (illegal) to use the work without the permission of the copyright owner.

How does copyright effect my decision to use music?
Music that has been recorded and issued on CD is protected by 2 copyrights. To use a recording of a musical composition in your work, you need to get permission from both copyright holders.

The first permission you need is from the music’s publisher.  The music publisher holds the copyright for the actual written music – the melody, the lyrics, the accompaniment, the actual music as it would appear in sheet music.  This copyright is shown by using the familiar © symbol
The second permission is for the recording itself.  To get this, you would approach the record company that released the recording.  The record company holds the copyright for the actual performance of the song captured and mastered on tape and released on CD.  The symbol for this copyright is the letter (P) inside a circle.  (look on the back of your own Cds, you will see these symbols in use)

How do I get permission to use copyrighted music?
The fact that music is protected by copyright doesn’t mean you cannot use it, it simply means you have to seek permission to use it. To receive that permission you will typically have to pay a licensing fee.

What licenses do I need?
Here are the licenses you need for the right to use music in your media project:

Synchronization License – This license is issued from the music publisher. The Synchronization License (often abbreviated as sync license) gives you the right to “synchronize” the copyrighted music with your images and dialogue.

Note: Having a sync license means you have permission from the publisher to use the music but it doesn’t give you the right to use a specific recording of the composition. For that you need the following…

Master Use License – This license is issued directly from the record company. Fees can range from several hundred dollars to millions of dollars depending on the popularity of the music.

Once you have paid the music publisher for a Sync License and the record company for a Master Use license, you have the legal right to use the music in your production within the terms of the license you negotiated.

Sidebar

This article is about music that is under copyright and NOT in the public domain. In the United States, music written before 1933 is in the
public domain and can be used without having to acquire a
synchronization license (you still need a master use license if you use
a recording of a piece in the public domain). Music written after 1933
is still under copyright according to US law. Public Domain is defined and interpreted differently in Canada, Europe, and the UK. Here is an article with more detail about using public domain music.

How do I find out who owns the song rights?
If you don’t know the publisher of the song you want to license, you should contact the major Performance Rights Organizations like BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. These groups have large databases of composer and associated publisher song titles. Another place to try is The Harry Fox agency. This company mainly grants mechanical rights (for recording and existing song), but their database is also huge.

Music Clearance
As you can see from the process described above, licensing music can be a time-intensive, form-laden, and expensive process. There are companies that just specialize in finding and processing the paperwork to get you the rights to a song. If you enter the term "Music Clearance" in a search engine, many music clearance companies will appear. If you have a music supervisor on your project, he or she will also be experienced in music clearance.

A Licensing Alternative – Production Music
Using Production Music (also referred to as Stock Music or Royalty Free Music), is the easiest way to quickly license music to use legally in your work. Royalty Free Production Music fills a niche for producers who don’t have a million dollar music budget and can’t afford to license a major hit song. Production Music gives the smaller, independent producer the ability to use music soundtracks in his or her production.

Is Production Music under copyright?
Production music is protected by both the (C) and (P) copyrights. When you buy a track from a production music library, you’ll receive a license agreement which grants you both synchronization and master use rights. It’s simple and easy to do. For instance, at the UniqueTracks Royalty Free Music site, your license and recorded master track can be downloaded right to your computer upon purchase.

Royalty Free Production Music is not copyright-free as some have termed it. It is fully protected by copyright law. With production music you get ease of licensing. You don’t have to contact several sources to seek sync and master use licenses. These licenses come bundled together and the rights granted are very wide. A typical royalty free music license grants you permission to use the music in TV broadcasts, TV & Radio advertising, Internet streaming (great for YouTube videos) music-on-hold, apps & video games, in-store broadcast, and as corporate trade show products and giveaways. Here is an example of a typical royalty free music license agreement.

Can I license a famous song from a production music library?
There are no production music pop hits. You won’t find an Eminem track in a royalty free production music library. To use an Eminem cut you would have to negotiate a license with Interscope Records. That’s not to say you can’t find Hip Hop tracks in production music libraries but you won’t find current or past pop hits.

Unlike a pop song, production music is composed to be used specifically as background music. It is usually instrumental, with no vocals or lyrics, and is similar to a film soundtrack.

How often can I use Royalty Free Production Music tracks?
The UniqueTracks license agreement grants you very broad usage rights. You are not limited to one-time usage; you can use the music again in any other production you create. You don’t have to inform UniqueTracks of your intent to use or report back once the production is complete. Once you have purchased (licensed) the music, you are free and clear to use it as often as you like within the boundaries stated by the license (i.e. the music has to be used in synchronization with narration or visuals)

The simplicity of Royalty Free Production Music licensing makes it a perfect choice for corporate videos, Flash animations, PowerPoint presentations, independent film, multimedia applications, – virtually anywhere where music is helpful but where the project budget doesn’t included hundreds of thousands of dollars to license expensive songs.


UniqueTracks has a vast library of music loops and grooves plus the largest selection of royalty free classical music on the Internet available for licensing into your production. We license royalty-free stock music, and sound effects to media producers who in turn, integrate them into their DVDs, videos, podcasts, TV advertising and Flash presentations.