There are two areas of music royalties—mechanical, which pays royalties from recordings manufactured and distributed, and performance, for each time a work is performed or broadcast.
Mechanical license—grants the right to reproduce and distribute a musical work at an agreed upon fee per unit. This includes physical media, such as compact discs, cassette tapes, phonograph records as well as ringtones, streaming technologies, and digital downloads. Harry Fox Agency is a leading PRO providing mechanical licensing. For more information, see the Harry Fox webpages on mechanical licensing.
Performance Royalties are assessed whenever a musical work is performed or broadcast. This includes live concert performances, radio broadcasts, music-on-hold, and internet streaming. Fees are based on multiple factors including venue and audience size. Two main types of licensing include the synchronization license and the public performance license.
Synchronization or “sync” license—allows music to be used or synchronized in audio-visual works such as motion pictures, television, videos, games, and websites. A sync license is separate from the above mechanical license. For synchronization licensing, parties need to contact the publisher or owner of the musical work directly and also obtain a master use license for the specific recording to be used. If the fee for a master use license is prohibitive—some popular songs in U.S. television commercials can command fees between $50,000 and $200,000--filmmakers instead will obtain a license from the composition owner and then record a cover version of the song to be used. Whether a song is being played on a radio or jukebox as background music or is used prominently as part of a soundtrack or commercial, or YouTube video, using the music will require a sync license.
Synchronization rights do not include the right to publicly perform music if your audio-visual project is transmitted to the public. In that case, you may need a public performance license from one of the performing rights organizations.
Under copyright law, only music publishers can own and administer music copyrights and collect royalties and fees for copyrighted music on behalf of composers. An effort to secure permission to use a copyrighted work typically consists of identifying and locating the publisher and then contacting them. Licensing works under copyright for derivative works and other uses is a time-consuming and potentially expensive undertaking.
In order to use copyrighted musical works, you need to obtain permission. It is not enough merely to provide attribution when using another person’s intellectual property. To get permission you will need to take the following steps:
1) Locate the rights owner. This can be an individual, an agency, or a manager. Look for the copyright notice on the physical item (i.e. a print publication or recording). Check with the publishing agency. Search works registered with ASCAP, BMI or the Harry Fox Agency. For websites, look for links to “Licensing” or “Permissions.” You can also check the U.S. Copyright Office’s Public Registry for works registered from 1978 to present.
2) Request permission. In many instances, rights holders or their agents will have online or downloadable forms by which you may do this. You need to be specific in the type of use, i.e. commercial or non-profit, and the amount of the work used, format, and length of time. Permission is required when creating derivative works, such as arrangements and adaptations. For an example of permission types and forms, see the permissions pages for the publishing company Hal Leonard.
3) Read, sign, and return the agreement. Upon approval, read the agreement, sign, return by due date or upon publication, and pay fees. It is critical that you read and fully understand your licensing agreements. It is a legal contract.
In some instances, you may be able to use parts of works without obtaining permission if the use is determined to be a fair use. Section 107 of U.S. Code Title 17 includes the four factors by which courts determine if a use is fair or infringing. See our Fair Use page for more detailed information.
*Many thanks to our friend and colleague, Naz Pantaloni, Indiana University Copyright Program Librarian, who offered considerable insight and content to these pages.