The Director's Chair Issue #59 – Oct. 22, 2005 (Using Music Legally in Your Work)
THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
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October 22, 2005 Scene 6 – Take 10
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3. Filmmaking Resource Center Blog
4. Feature Article – “Using Music Legally in Your Work”
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Welcome to Issue #59 of The Director’s Chair (Oct. 22, 2005)
1) This month’s Feature Article is called “How to Use Music
Legally in Your Work – Frequently Asked Questions ” by John
Bickerton. This article deals with music copyright issues
when using music as soundtrack in a production.
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4. FEATURE ARTICLE – How to Use Music Legally in Your Work
HOW TO USE MUSIC LEGALLY IN YOUR WORK:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS – John Bickerton
Q: WHEN DO I NEED A LICENSE TO USE MUSIC IN MY WORK?
A: You need to acquire a license when you want to take music
that you have not personally created and use it as a
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.
Q: WHAT IS A COPYRIGHT?
A: Copyright is a federal law that protects creators by
giving them exclusive rights to their works. Once a work is
under copyright, it is illegal to use the work without the
permission of the copyright owner.
Q: HOW DOES COPYRIGHT EFFECT MY DECISION TO USE MUSIC?
A: 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).
Q: HOW DO I GET PERMISSION TO USE COPYRIGHTED MUSIC?
A: 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.
Q: WHAT LICENSE DO I NEED?
A: 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
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.
This article is about music that is under copyright and NOT
in the public domain. 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. I hope to discuss the public domain in more
detail in a future article.
Q: WHAT ARE PRODUCTION MUSIC CDS?
A: As you can see from the process described above,
licensing music can be a time-intensive, form-laden, and
expensive process. Using music from a Production Music
Library (also referred to as stock music), is the quickest
and easiest way to license music. When you buy music from a
production music library, you are immediately granted both
synchronization and master use rights to use the music in
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.
Q: IS PRODUCTION MUSIC UNDER COPYRIGHT?
A: 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 gives you
both synchronization and master use rights.
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.
Q: CAN I LICENSE A FAMOUS SONG FROM A PRODUCTION MUSIC
A: There are no production music pop hits. You won’t find
an Eminem track in a 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
Q: HOW OFTEN CAN I USE PRODUCTION MUSIC TRACKS?
A: The license agreement grants you very broad usage rights.
For instance, with the license agreement from my company,
UniqueTracks, 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 us of your intent to use or report
back once the production is complete. Once you have
purchased 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 Production music licensing makes it a
great choice for independent film, multimedia applications,
commercials, corporate videos, Flash animations – virtually
anywhere where music is helpful but where the project budget
doesn’t included hundreds of thousands of dollars to license
John Bickerton is Creative Director for the UniqueTracks
Production Music Library. He writes the monthly
e-newsletter “Underscore – Secrets of Successful
Soundtracks”, published by UnqiueTracks. Click to subscribe
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