Basics about Music Rights, Licenses & Copyright

New to music licensing?  Here are a few basics.

All music in film and video productions contains two sets of rights:

  • the copyright for the composition (publishing)
  • the copyright for the recording (master).

In a film or video production, music can come from one of three sources:

  • Original music composed specifically for the production;
  • Existing music that is in the public domain (ie: a Mozart concerto) 
  • Existing music that is not in the public domain.

Audiovisual licenses

In each case you need to make sure that you have acquired the right to use both the composition and the recording. This is usually done through two different licenses:

  • synchronization license for the right to use the composition (which is often issued by a music publisher)
  • master use license for the right to use the recording (which is often issued by a record label).

If you choose to use existing music that is not in the public domain, you will need to obtain the right to use both the composition and the recording.  If you choose to use existing music that is in the public domain (in other words, a song that is so old that the term of copyright has expired), you may use the composition without obtaining a synchronization license, but you will still need to obtain the right to use the recording.

License fees

The fee for synchronization and master use rights are typically the same, so you will often hear people refer to a license fee as something like $500 “per side” (meaning the cost is $500 each for synchronization and master rights) or $1000 “all in”.

"One-stop" music synchronisation

It is becoming increasingly common that both the composition and the recording are owned by the artist, or another single rights owner. In such cases, the synchronization and master use licenses can be obtained under the same agreement, as long as it specifically grants the production company a license to use both the composition and the recording.

Luckily for you, all the tracks in Harris&Wolff library are what those of us in the business lovingly refer to as “one stop”, which means you can obtain all of the permissions you need in one place.

Different types of music uses in an audiovisual production:

« Background » or « Incidential » Music: music used as an accompaniment to the scene portrayed, but not represented as being audible to one or more of the characters therein.

« Feature » Music: music which is performed by, or represented as being audible to and directly related to the specific actions of, one or more of the characters in the scene portrayed.

« Theme » Music: music which identifies, at the beginning or end, a program, film, series, video game or other.

« Trailer » or « Out of context use » Music:  music which is used to advertise or promote the PRODUCTION in advance or as a preview.

« Duration »: the total time of usage of the given music track in PRODUCTION