Music Clearance

Music is often an important part of a film or television program, but few producers seem to understand the permissions that are required to legally use music in their audiovisual projects.  Accordingly, Amy assists her producer clients in determining which rights must be cleared, locating the respective copyright owner(s); preparing quote letters (i.e., to request music licensing fee quotes); and negotiating license agreements for approved uses.

Generally speaking, one should assume that every clip of music that is included in an audiovisual work (whether live or pre-recorded) will need to be “cleared.” Music clearance is the process of obtaining permission to include a musical composition and/or a particular sound recording of a musical composition in an audiovisual work.

In the United States, copyright owners of musical compositions and sound recordings (or their respective designees) typically have the exclusive authority to determine whether or not to permit their music to be used in a particular audiovisual project, and to set and charge fees for such use. Therefore, it is imperative for producers who wish to use music in their audiovisual projects to find and approach the copyright owner(s) and request the rights that they need to create and exploit their film, television program, webisode, etc. Such permissions are ideally obtained during pre-production and not sought when the production team “can’t imagine” the final product without that particular music in the soundtrack.

Please bear in mind that it is somewhat common for the owner of a musical composition copyright (i.e., the words and music, or what is commonly thought of as the “song”) and the owner of a sound recording copyright (i.e., a recording of a specific performance of a song) to be different. As a result, if a producer wants to use a popular recording of a popular song, he/she will often have to request permission from a music publisher (for the song) and a record label (for the recording).

TIP: If the song copyright and sound recording copyright divide is still confusing, think about how many different recording artists have released versions of the song “Yesterday” written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. If a producer wanted to use an existing recording of “Yesterday” (as opposed to hiring a band to record a version of “Yesterday” specifically for the film/TV soundtrack), he/she would need to clear rights to use both copyrighted works as follows:

(1) approach Lennon and McCartney’s music publisher to clear use of the song (regardless of the recording used); and

(2) approach the record label or performer that owns the existing recording (the version that the producer wants to include) to clear use of the sound recording.

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