What Is Music Clearance?

For Class #10

 Instructor: Norman Hollyn T.A.: Beth Moody
 Office: 310-821-2792 Phone: 323-472-1164

 E-Mail: nhollyn [at] cinema.usc.edu

E-Mail: elizabethmoody [at] gmail.com

The most important thing to understand about using music in your project is that there are at least two types of rights that you need to purchase to use music in any audio/visual project -- the rights to the song that the songwriter wrote (called a copyright or a synch license) and the right to use any particular recording of that song (called a master license). Music publishing companies sell licenses for the copyright or synch rights. Record companies sell licenses for master rights (this is a generalization but it usually works).

For instance, if you wanted to use Sinead O'Connor's version of the Broadway musical hit "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" you would need to purchase the copyright to the song from the Universal Music Publishing Group. You will also need to purchase a master license to use her particular recording of that song from the record label EMD/Chrysalis. If you wanted to use Madonna's version of the same song you would need to buy the master rights from Warner Records label but you would still need to purchase the synch license from UMPG. If you wanted to re-record the song yourself, you wouldn't need to purchase master rights from a record company at all, however you would still need to purchase the synch license from UMPG. As a side note, you would need to make sure that whoever you got to re-record the song assigned you the master rights (this is often a part of the agreement that a production company will make with whoever is creating the music for their film).

A song that has no copyright protection, usually because it is old enough that its copyright has expired, is said to be "in the public domain" (often called a "p.d." song). Because of the differing copyright laws from country to country, works that are in the public domain in the United States may still be protected in foreign territories.

The process of obtaining the licenses to every piece of music that appears in your film is called "music clearance" and is usually handled by a music supervisor or the producer of your film.

How do I find who owns a song?

The performance rights organizations BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. The Harry Fox Agency will also help film and music producers locate and clear the rights to a song.

Do I need to license a song if Iím only using a tiny amount of it?

The test for copyright infringement is whether the usage is "substantially similar" to the original, as determined by a judge or a jury. If a song can be recognized, even if only two notes are used, you will need to obtain the rights to use the song.

How about foreign rights? Do I need to buy those too?

You will need to obtain rights for every territory in which your project will be distributed. Feature films usually obtain "worldwide rights" to ensure that their films can be sold all over the world. Other projects will target their territory purchases more narrowly. If a commercial will never run outside of the United States, there is probably no need to purchase worldwide rights.

Most publishers do not own worldwide rights on every copyright that they control. In addition, the way in which copyright ownership is split may vary from territory to territory so you may need to contact other music publishers to obtain complete rights in every territory.

Will I have to pay anything else besides the synch and master license fees?

Yes, you may be responsible for paying at least some of the following:

Mechanical license fees,

Union reuse fees (AFM, SAG/AFTRA)

Performance rights fees

What do I have to send you after I finish my project?

You must prepare an accurate listing of all music used in your production so that the publishing companies and the performing rights societies may collect those fees from overseas and other markets. This listing, called a cue sheet, should list the name of the song, the length of the usage, the type of use (visual/non-visual, vocal/instrumental, titles, etc.), the author of the composition, the publishing company, and the performance rights society affiliation (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc.)

When do I have to pay my license fee?

Prior to the first public exhibition of your project.

© 2002, Universal Music Publishing Group. This article is excerpted from the FAQ section which I wrote for their websites.

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All material, except where noted, ©1999-2008 by Norman Hollyn. Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Send me an e-mail at my office
Last Modified - September 30, 2008