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FAQ: The Basics of Core Music Licenses

Posted by Glen Sears | June 12, 2015 2:10 pm | No Comments

basics of music licenses

In almost every situation, before you can use a copyrighted piece of musical content, you need to obtain at least one license. This license entitles you to use the work, and also requires you to pay various types of royalties to the copyright owners. In many cases, more than one type of license is required.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of music licenses, who they are obtained from, and what they are used for.

Master Recording License

Gives the holder of the license the right to use a recording made by someone else. Master recording licenses are controlled directly by the rights holder, usually the artist or record label. A master recording license must be obtained for each song required for a project. These projects typically include things like compilation CDs.

Mechanical License

Gives the holder of the license the right to copy or duplicate a song. Mechanical licenses are controlled by the song’s publisher or songwriter(s), sometimes both. A mechanical license entitles the rights holder to mechanical royalties, which are paid every time the song is “reproduced.” Projects that require mechanical licenses typically include CD pressings and cover songs.

Public Performance License

Gives the holder of the license the right to “publicly perform” a work of music. Performance licenses are controlled by the songwriter, or the songwriter’s Performing Rights Organization. These PROs include ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and others. The term “public performance” includes much more than just live performances. DJ sets, background music in businesses, presentations and meetings, and digital radio & streaming services all require performance licenses.

Sync License

Gives the holder of the license the right to “synchronize” a musical work to another visual medium, usually video. Sync licenses are controlled by the composer, songwriter, or publisher; sometimes all three. Projects that require sync licenses typically include theme songs for television, video advertising, movie soundtracks, and video games.

Print License

Gives the holder of the license the right to reproduce lyrics or sheet music for a musical work. Print licenses are controlled by the song’s publisher or songwriter(s), sometimes both. Projects that require a print license typically include sheet music books and lyrics websites.

Compulsory License

Allows an individual or company to obtain a music license without first seeking the rights holder’s consent. In exchange, that individual or company pays the rights holder a set fee for the license called The Statutory Rate. Projects that can receive a compulsory license are jukeboxes, digital broadcasts, Public Broadcasting Service, Cable TV broadcasts of local stations, and mechanical licenses for an album or digital recording (also called a compulsory mechanical license).

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