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Sync or swim: legally using music in your content

Written by George Hyde
Incorporating music into your content can add an emotional and storytelling dimension, but it's important to obtain the necessary legal permission before doing so. In this comprehensive guide, we'll provide you with all the essential information you need to know about music licensing.
<strong>Sync or swim:</strong> legally using music in your content
Who owns the music you want to use?

Before you dive into the licensing process, it's important to understand that two distinct copyright works are involved in using and licensing music.

These are the copyright in the underlying composition (i.e., the musical notes and lyrics) and the copyright in the sound recording of that composition. The copyright in the musical composition is owned by music publishers or songwriters, while the copyright in the sound recording is owned by a record company, producer, or artist.

It's worth noting that the copyright in a musical composition may be jointly owned by several publishers or songwriters, requiring you to obtain permission from each of them before using the musical composition in your content.

What happens if you use music without permission?

Using music in your content without obtaining permission would constitute a copyright infringement, and legal action could be taken against you.

Can someone help you locate the owners of a piece of music?

Yes, that's where a music supervisor can come in handy. Not only can they help you track down the relevant rights owners from whom to license the necessary rights, but they can also negotiate favourable terms on your behalf.

Is there a more straightforward and cheaper option?

Yes, production music is an excellent alternative. Production music publishers, sometimes called library music publishers, own the copyright in musical compositions and the sound recordings of those compositions. This means you only need to obtain permission from one source in return for a single payment.

What is a sync licence?

Once you've located the music rights owner or owners, it's time to talk paperwork. A synchronisation licence - or sync licence for short - is a legal document between the owner of music rights and you, the producer of audio-visual content. As the name suggests, this licence gives you legal permission to use the music in synchronisation with your content.

What are the main terms of a sync licence?

The terms of sync licences can vary depending on the specifics of the project and intended use, but here are some key terms to be aware of:

  1. Scope of use
    The scope of use specifies how you can use music in your content, which includes:
    1. Term: The length of time you can use the music in your content, which may be limited or "in perpetuity" (i.e., forever).
    2. Territory: The geographic regions where you can use the music in your content, which may be worldwide or limited to specific territories.
    3. Media: The types of media in which you can use the music in your content, which may encompass all media types or be restricted to specific forms of media, such as TV or online.
    4. Duration and Nature of Use:
      The placement and length of the music in your content, such as in the opening titles for a maximum of 20 seconds.
  2. Licence Fees
    You must pay a licence fee in exchange for permission to use your chosen music. The licence fee amount depends on several factors, such as the scope of use, the popularity of the music, and the artists/songwriters involved in its creation. Licence fees are generally paid upfront and in full.
  3. Exclusivity
    It is possible to license music rights exclusively, which implies that the music cannot be used in any other audio-visual content during the licence term. However, keep in mind that exclusivity typically commands a significantly higher licence fee.
  4. Credit and Attribution
    Depending on the type of use, you may be required to credit the relevant rights owners in the credits section of your content. The licence may specify the type, form, and placement of the credit.
  5. Warranties
    Music rights owners frequently make contractual promises (known as warranties) about the rights granted to you. For instance, you would usually expect a warranty that the rights granted to you will not result in copyright infringement claims and that the music rights owner genuinely owns the rights it claims to be able to grant to you.
Can we help?

If you need to use music in your latest project, we can assist you in obtaining all necessary clearances and permissions to ensure legal compliance. We can also evaluate your current sync licences to ensure that they are equitable, current, and protect you from legal risk.

Please contact us for more information.